England’s reserve fall short in World Cup Audition

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Henry Slade
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17: Henry Slade of England breaks with the ball during the Quilter International match between England and Japan at Twickenham Stadium on November 17, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Japan will cause more shocks in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in front of their home crowds next year if they play like they did on Saturday.

The Cherry Blossoms were absolutely outstanding at Twickenham and made a mockery of former coach Eddie Jones’ predictions prior to the game. If it wasn’t for England’s strength in depth, it would have been Eddie Jones eating humble pie. Ultimately England had the luxury of bringing on Owen Farrell and other heavyweights, all of whom made an instant impact. For a long time during the eighty minutes, Japan’s famous Brighton upset over the Springboks during the 2015 World Cup looked like being replicated at Twickenham on Saturday.

England’s reserve fail to take their chance

The match against Japan was a wonderful opportunity for England’s second-stringers to stake their claim to be part of England’s World Cup squad. Zak Mercer and Alex Lozowski among others failed to take their chance as they became embroiled in a desperate defensive rearguard as their more energetic opponents ran England ragged for the first fourty minutes. All the talk before the game was how well England had prepared during the week and were ready to give Japan a real hiding before looking ahead to the Wallabies next weekend. On game day, they were anything but.

Lack of urgency, intensity and energy

England totally lacked in all the facets which we saw in abundance in the contest against the All Blacks last weekend. The ferocity in which England’s pack tore into New Zealand from the first minute was alarmingly absent against the Japanese. Indeed it was Jamie Joseph’s men who showed the urgency and the skill to dominate the breakdown and knock down their more muscular hosts. They thoroughly deserved their 15-10 lead and if it weren’t for some last ditch defence it could have been a worse scoreline for England at the break.

The charge of the heavy brigade

Eddie Jones had no option but to bring on the likes of Owen Farrell and Dylan Hartley to install some much needed aggression and attitude. It worked a treat as England upped their intensity and line speed to take the second half 25-0 and win the match 35-15. On the one hand Jones would have wanted to have given his first team a decent rest, on the other, he will now know the majority of what his first XV will be as the likes of Sinckler and Underhill made an immediate impact up front. Henry Slade was another who looked dangerous every time he had the ball which bodes well for the Australian clash next week.

The industrious Maro Itoje got the man of the match accolade but Courtney Lawes pushed him very close. Lawes put his hand up to start against the Wallabies with an all action display in the loose and at the breakdown. When England were leading 23-15 midway through the second half, Lawes won a crucial turnover deep in English territory. Lawes was at times the lone ranger in England’s pack when Japan were running England ragged.

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Joe Cokanasiga impresses

Out of the newbies, big Bath winger Joe Cokanasiga can look back on his debut with great pride not just for the try he scored after good work from Richard Wigglesworth but in everything he did. Given the general malaise from the English team in the first half, we did not get to see Cokanasiga in full flight. However, Cokanasiga chased well, tackled strongly and made the hard yards when he did have the ball in hand. It is unlikely that he will get another run out next week against the Wallabies but if Chris Ashton’s calf injury rules him out then Cokanasiga may get his chance.

How good were Japan?

With Japan’s team talk already written by Eddie Jones earlier in the week, they needed no motivation to shove Jones’ predictions down his throat. There were many impressive parts to Japan’s game on Saturday not least their breathtaking handling skills and willingness to take on England’s vastly bigger pack. The Cherry Blossoms constantly turned England’s static attack over and seemed fitter than their counterparts. Michael Leitch, the inspirational Japanese captain was the best player on the field with centre┬áRyoto Nakamura not far behind him. Both forwards and backs carried with ferocity, tackled anything in white and offloaded with aplomb. It was marvelous to watch regardless of whether you were an English supporter.

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On this evidence, Japan will snare more scalps next year and with passionate home support behind them, do not be surprised if they make the quarter finals.

Beat the Wallabies and the autumn will have been a success

Despite the up and down performance on Saturday, Eddie Jones and his team can look forward to the arrival of the Wallabies. Australia came away from Italy with an unconvincing 26-7 victory but struggled to assert themselves after a fast start. Michael Cheika’s men always get up for an England battle and they will be much better than they were on Saturday. Wallabies versus England is always a big affair and both teams will be desperate to get a win to finish off their respective autumn campaigns.

England will resort to the team that pushed the All Blacks so close although George Kruis and possibly Chris Ashton will be unavailable due to injury. Courtney Lawes would be a straight swap for Kruis and there maybe a temptation to bring Joe Cokanasiga in against Australia. Another selection poser for Jones is whether Manu Tuilagi will come back into the equation for the number 12 jumper. Ben Te’o has thus far been solid in defence but has shown little in attack in the first two games. Pleasant selection questions for Jones to ponder over this week as the autumn series reaches a thrilling climax.

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