Gomersall and Wilkinson return to give England direction

At last, some evidence of shape and direction in England’s performance.  Orchestrated by the half-back combination of Andy Gomersall and Jonny Wilkinson, England exerted control over feisty opposition to set up an all-or-nothing showdown with Tonga to qualify for the knockout stages.

To use a well-worn phrase, Wilkinson kept the scoreboard ticking over.  He slotted two dropped goals and kicked four penalties (as well as three conversions) to reward England’s dominance in possession and territory.

The forwards made a significant improvement, and looked more competitive at the breakdown.  Nick Easter carried well, and Martin Corry’s unerring loyalty and determination was rewarded with two tries.  Simon Shaw was prominent in the loose with delightful hands, whilst Matt Stevens was rock solid and deserves selection even when Phil Vickery returns next week.

By no means was this a polished performance from England, with Josh Lewsey, Olly Barkley and indeed Wilkinson kicking very poorly out of hand, often missing touch and rarely finding space.  The midfield still does not look creative, and surely Danny Hipkiss must feature against Tonga – Mathew Tait did nothing wrong, and I’d actually move him to the wing instead of Paul Sackey, but no doubt others will have something to say about that.

Tonga next week will offer a similar challenge to Samoa, with physical runners making up for the shortfall at the set piece.  Their outstanding performance against South Africa will worry the England camp – the winner on Friday will go through to face Australia, and the loser will go home.