England were struggling to break down Japan until a handy deflection off the prop


To borrow an old cricketing adage, there are no pictures in the scorebook. It reads try England, captain Courtney Lawes the scorer. But that does not even get close to telling the tale of how Joe Marler’s head unlocked John Mitchell’s Japan defence.

For all the praise they received for beating Argentina with 14-men in Marseille last week, England struggled to kick on and use that momentum against the Brave Blossoms in Nice on Sunday night.

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Lewis Ludlam made the most of a Japan error in the first half to score England’s first Rugby World Cup try since the 2019 semi-final win over New Zealand in Yokohama. But if that was scrappy then it came nowhere near to the second score for Steve Borthwick’s men.

With the score at 13-12 in England’s favour, Borthwick’s side were on the attack and looking to shift the ball in the Japan 22 when a moment of comedy became very profitable. Scrum-half Alex Mitchell fired the ball out to George Ford whose pass bounced backwards off replacement tighthead Will Stuart and straight onto Joe Marler’s head.

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Most players in the vicinity stopped, presuming there had been an obvious knock-on. However, the quick-thinking Lawes scooped up the ball and breezed over to dot down unchallenged. Georgian referee Nika Amashukeli had wisely chosen not to blow his whistle, suspecting the ball had gone backwards before striking a head – which is not considered a knock-on.

Amashukeli called it an on-field try before checking with TMO Joy Neville who confirmed the decision to gift England a try in the most bizarre of circumstance with what many know as a ‘falcon’, when the ball cannons off a player’s head.

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The lesson for the Japan players was always play to the whistle. Ford converted from under the posts to regain England some breathing space at 20-12.

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