Manu Tuilagi crossed for a first-half double to set England on their way to a solid bonus-point win over Tonga in their World Cup opener.
This was not England at their free-wheeling best, but they were brutally effective when they needed to be in Sapporo in a 35-3 success.
Tuilagi’s first came from his own brute force from short range, his second from Jonny May’s raw speed.
And in the second half, Jamie George went over from a rolling maul for their third as England flexed their full armoury.
The fourth and final score came from Luke Cowan-Dickie, profiting from replacement Jonathan Joseph’s fine break to go under the posts.
Eddie Jones’ men now face a quick turnaround before taking on the USA in Kobe on Thursday, but they have a clean bill of health and five points in the bag.
MANU AGAINST BOYS
The opening quarter was predictably high on physicality. Courtney Lawes and Sam Underhill the busy boys for England in defence while Zane Kapeli put in a huge shot on Billy Vunipola that nearly blew the roof off.
An Owen Farrell penalty was immediately negated by Tane Takulua – England’s discipline letting them down with four penalties conceded inside the first 20 minutes and the scores locked at 3-3.
But Tuilagi was straining at the leash, a couple of early carries had skittled defenders to set up the Red Rose’s first try.
From a five-metre scrum after Underhill had gone close, Vunipola and Ben Youngs went down the short side to Tuilagi who did the rest.
It was a near identical try to his score against Ireland last month, but unlike that Twickenham mauling, Tonga were not rolling over just yet.
Farrell missed the conversion and Takulua should have cut the lead with another penalty that drifted wide.
🏉 Tuilagi’s on 🔥
— ITV Rugby (@ITVRugby) September 22, 2019
If the first try was all Tuilagi, the second was made for him by his backline. Elliot Daly came into the line from full-back to create an overlap that sent Jonny May haring away down the left and there was Tuilagi on his inside to canter over.
Farrell added the extras and another penalty and England were solid if unspectacular in leading 18-3 at the break.
SECOND HALF SALVO
Jones’ men began the second half the way they finished the first, with Farrell drilling a penalty.
Ellis Genge was soon introduced for the industrious Joe Marler and England’s maul got to work but knock-ons from first Tuilagi and then Underhill stopped England’s attack dead.
The cavalry then followed from England’s bench and it was George Kruis, on for Lawes, who immediately set up the third try from another maul, George the recipient.
Henry Slade’s World Cup bow then came at full-back with Daly sliding to the wing and the Exeter man’s quick feet nearly created England’s fourth on the hour.
Anthony Watson then went searing into the clear with an impressive solo break that left defenders clutching at thin air, but again the chance was wasted when Slade failed to put Daly in the corner.
The bonus-point score did eventually arrive however, Joseph – on for Ford – stepping into the clear from first receiver to release Cowan-Dickie.
The hooker now has three tries in his last five Tests, after going try-less for his first 11 appearances, but of equal celebration was the way England fronted up to hold Tonga out at the death.
After Tuilagi’s first score of the game, England immediately offered Tonga a response when Maro Itoje and Vunipola got their wires crossed at kick-off time.
But Takulua’s penalty drifted wide and England then hit the accelerator, Daly and May creating the break down the left and Tuilagi back on the inside to effectively put the game to bed on the half-hour mark.
Maro Itoje was a nuisance as ever, spoiling lineouts, turning over ball on the floor and carrying with an added intent.
And when Daly attacks from deep, this England back line looks a match for the world’s best.
But 2019 has been all about Tuilagi. He looks so sharp, is stringing games together at long last and his first-half double here was the key to getting England up and running in Sapporo.
His influence faded in the second half, but by then the damage was already done.
- Tuilagi finished the game with 6 defenders beaten and 93 metres made
- Tom Curry made the most tackles of anyone on the pitch with 14
- Anthony Watson beat seven defenders for 117 metres with ball in hand
- England and Tonga have met three times in history and all three have been at Rugby World Cups. England have now won in 1999, 2007 & 2019
- England have now won their opening pool match at the last seven Rugby World Cups
- Ben Youngs becomes the first England scrum-half to feature in three Rugby World Cups
- This is England’s second youngest-ever side, in terms of average age, named at Rugby World Cup