England claim scrappy 34-12 win over Japan
England moved top of Pool ‘D’ after securing a scrappy 34-12 victory over Japan in their 2023 Rugby World Cup match played in Nice, France on Sunday. It was a sloppy first half for England as they tried and somewhat failed to get a foothold in the game, a Lewis Ludlam try plus three George Ford conversions giving them slight breathing space over their opponents.
However, the Brave Blossoms’ nine points through the boot of Rikiya Matsuda left England under pressure as Steve Borthwick’s side went in 13-9 up at half time.
Japan brought themselves back within one point of England through another Matsuda penalty, but the strangest of tries for Courtney Lawes – who scored after collecting the ball after it bounced off Joe Marler’s head – plus a perfectly executed finish from Freddie Steward and a bonus-point try from Joe Marchant kept England’s unbeaten record intact after two games of the tournament.
England tried to set a precedent from the opening phases that they were going to play a fast-paced attack and at first it looked like it was going to work wonders as they gained a 3-0 lead after just four minutes from a close-range Ford penalty.
Borthwick’s side then continued to try to use their backs and exploit Japan on the edges, but the Brave Blossoms held out well and eased themselves into the game after a nervous start, a Matsuda close-range penalty bringing scores level after 14 minutes.
Momentum then looked as it was going to swing the way of Japan as they briefly took the lead in the 23rd minute through another Matsuda penalty, but their advantage didn’t last long as England used their territory to their advantage and Ludlam crashed over from short range for their first try of the tournament, Ford converting for a 10-6 lead.
Japan then narrowed the gap to 13-12 as Ollie Chessum was penalised for not rolling away in the tackle, Matsuda showing accuracy with the boot once again. England quickly regained the lead with the most bizarre of tries through Lawes, the England captain picking up the loose ball and going in under the sticks after it bounced forward off Joe Marler’s head, Ford adding the extras to give England a 20-12 lead.
Although Japan were not ready to give up and continued to threaten, England finally executed their attack well off the back of Ben Earl, and a perfectly-weighted Ford kick was collected and finished by Steward, the former converting to extend England’s lead to 27-12 with just under 15 minutes remaining.