Steve Borthwick's men maintained their 100% record in France
England are on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup quarter-finals after securing a bonus-point win against a stubborn Japan side in Nice.
Steve Borthwick’s men have now beaten their two hardest opponents on paper, picking up nine points on the way and having to do so without their suspended captain Owen Farrell.
However, for a long time in muggy conditions in the south of France, England made hard work of things as a litany of handling errors stunted any attacking progress. More often than not fly-half George Ford and the team opted to put boot to ball, at one stage the team’s predisposition to kicking drew loud boos audible on the ITV coverage.
Eventually, Lewis Ludlam scored England’s first try of the tournament after 104 minutes and their first World Cup five-pointer since that monumental 2019 semi-final win against New Zealand in Yokohama.
However, Japan were going nowhere with John Mitchell, England’s former coach turned Japan’s defence maestro, orchestrating a terrific rearguard effort from his troops.
A second Ford penalty of the first half ensured England went in 13-9 up at half-time.
Related: England Rugby World Cup squad
The breakthrough after the interval came in bizarre circumstances as Joe Marler’s head provided an assist for captain Courtney Lawes to get over for a try in the 56th minute.
That seemed to help England start to finally get motoring as ten minutes later Ford’s wonderful left-footed cross-kick was perfectly weighted for the onrushing full-back Freddie Steward to collect in the air and dot down.
That left England with 14 minutes to find a crucial fourth try to pick up an extra bonus point and it eventually came right at the death. England piled the pressure on the Japan line and after replacement Ollie Lawrence came up with a good carry, a Ben Youngs miss-pass found Joe Marchant who cut a nice line to crash over past a by now weary Brave Blossoms defence.
England now move onto their next game against Chile, safe in the knowledge they are very well positioned to progress as at least one of the top two qualifiers from Pool D.