Second-half blitz helps England see off battling Japan

First international tries for Mark Wilson and Joe Cokanasiga helped England avoid a shock defeat as a second-half comeback eventually saw off a valiant Japan side.

First international tries for Mark Wilson and Joe Cokanasiga helped England avoid a shock defeat as a second-half comeback eventually saw off a valiant Japan side.

Japan’s expansive, free-flowing rugby caused the hosts all sorts of problems in the first 40 minutes, as the visitors deservedly led 15-10 at half-time, but England hit back after the break to triumph 35-15.

Danny Care had got the home side off to a flyer but tries from Ryoto Nakamura and Michael Leitch stunned Twickenham in just the second-ever meeting between the sides.

However, England came on strong in the final quarter as flanker Wilson, powerful winger Cokanasiga and hooker Dylan Hartley all crashed over secure victory and set them up nicely for a final game before the 2019 Six Nations against Australia next weekend.

England got off to the perfect start with a superb team try four minutes in – Elliot Daly gathering a kick in his own half, cutting inside and feeding Cokanasiga out wide.

The debutant winger broke down the wing, slipped the ball to Jamie George and the hooker released the supporting Care to run in under the posts.

After George Ford’s conversion – on the occasion of his 50th Test cap – Japan bravely took the game to their hosts, setting up camp in the England 22 and turning down three kickable penalties in favour of booting the ball to the corner.

Although Eddie Jones’ men initially held firm, Yu Tamura eventually slotted a longer penalty to narrow the deficit to 7-3 before, with George in the sin-bin, the visitors got the try their play deserved as inside centre Nakamura received a crash ball, ran through a Ford tackle and powered over.

Tamura added the extras and although a monster Daly penalty from halfway levelled the game at 10-10, the Brave Blossoms responded with a brilliant individual try from skipper Leitch – breaking a tackle from a stationary position just outside the 22, bursting through and beautifully side-stepping last defender Daly for a 15-10 half-time lead.

Jones made changes early in the second half – inserting his big guns into the line-up – as Owen Farrell came on for Alex Lozowski to reform the Ford-Farrell 10-12 axis, while Sam Underhill, Kyle Sinckler and Ben Moon also emerged from the bench.

Japan initially withstood the concerted England pressure but a Ford penalty narrowed the gap and Wilson’s maiden international score, as he sprinted over after Ford had drawn his man and produced an inside offload, gave the hosts a lead they would never surrender.

Cokanasiga then got his debut try as a loose ball following a high box kick was gathered by George, Richard Wigglesworth made ground down the wing and passed infield to the 21-year-old to barrel through two tackles and dot down.

And Hartley, on as a late replacement, then put the gloss on the display as he touched down from the back of a powerful driving maul into the corner.   WHAT THEY SAID

England fly-half George Ford: “We were very disappointed with the first half. Our attitude wasn’t quite there, which is not good.

“But the second half was more like us and we had more energy in defence especially. The replacements are there to have an impact and bring an energy to the game, which is what they did. We’re disappointed it had to come to that but that’s what the squad is there for.

“It’s a big week for us now. We’ll rest up and recover and the Aussies are here next week – which is always special – so we look forward to that.   England forward Maro Itoje: “Against any team in international rugby we know the opposition will have quality and Japan had a lot of quality, they didn’t give up.

“Their breakdown was a very strong game, they did well in that area in the first half.

“Eddie spoke at half-time with Dylan as well as Ford – they spoke to the team to try and get us back on track. We just needed to up it, they were beating us round the corner and winning the one on ones.

“Japan are a good team but we should be beating them. These guys are well-drilled and they have a lot of talent.

“The second half was fantastic – mentality-wise, attitude wise, we were a bit calmer in our positioning which allowed us to come back into the game.”   Japan captain Michael Leitch: “For the first 50 minutes, it felt like everything was going our way and our discipline was on point.

“But we lost concentration for ten minutes in the second half and that cost us badly.

“I think momentum is the key to us winning these games. Hopefully we can learn from today because we probably need to get the ball into space more. We had chances to but didn’t take them.

“Everyone is working towards the home World Cup for us next year – we’ll take this loss on the chin and move on to next week.”   PLAYER WATCH: JAMIE GEORGE

Often used off the bench due to the presence of Dylan Hartley, Jamie George invariably impresses when he does get the opportunity to start for England and this was no different.

Incredibly mobile around the park for a front-rower, George found himself having a crucial hand in multiple tries against Japan.

For the game’s opening score, he stayed on Joe Cokanasiga’s shoulder to receive an inside pass from the winger and then perfectly-timed his own pass to send Danny Care sprinting clear.

Then, on the 70-minute mark, George chased up a high box kick and caught the ball once it flew loose before shifting it out to Richard Wigglesworth on the wing, which set Cokanasiga up for his debut try.

Throw in six tough carries, 16 tackles without missing one and efficiency at the lineout and it was an impressive all-round display from the 28-year-old.   KEY MOMENT

Japan had frustrated England for the best part of an hour, so Mark Wilson crossing to give England a lead which they would never surrender was crucial.

It all started with quick ball from scrum-half Danny Care giving George Ford space to operate in. The fly-half threw a dummy, drew in his man and produced a perfectly-timed inside offload to Wilson.

The Newcastle Falcons back-rower has had an impressive autumn and deserved the relatively simple task of running the ball over the whitewash.

That broke the back of the Japanese resistance and England would go on to end with an impressive scoreline   STAT WATCH

– The teams had only met in one previous Test match – England beating Japan 60-7 in Sydney during the 1987 World Cup

– George Ford became the fourth fly-half to win 50 caps for England after Jonny Wilkinson, Rob Andrew and Toby Flood

– Mark Wilson was the first man to score a try for England while playing for Newcastle Falcons since Jamie Noon in March 2008.

– No English player gained more metres than Joe Cokanasiga’s 75, which came from nine powerful carries