Rugby World Cup 2019: Three talking points from England’s win over Tonga

Tom Curry

The Rugby World Cup 2019 is finally under way. Already there have been some fantastic tries, thumping hits and compelling rollercoaster games. Amidst it all, England recorded a 35-3 win over Tonga in their opening fixture. A relatively routine victory, it was an underwhelming performance from England given it was against a (no disrespect to Tonga) struggling side that shipped 14 tries in a 92-7 loss to New Zealand a few weeks previously.

While the high stakes of World Cup rugby often act as something of a leveller between teams – New Zealand only beat Tonga 41-10 back in the 2011 group stages – this ambitious England team can and will need to do better. Here are three talking points from the game.

Unforced errors need fixing
Did World Rugby accidentally use Warren Gatland’s baby-oil coated training balls for this match? Sunday’s game featured some of the sloppiest handling by an England side in as long as I can remember – over a dozen unforced handling errors regularly undermining good field position and attacking play. Henry Slade and Elliot Daly’s comical mix up – Daly overrunning while Slade demonstrating zero awareness to fizz a fast pass into empty space – was the rather sour icing on the cake.

In total England conceded 17 turnovers, half a dozen of which were in Tonga’s 22. Add to that 10 penalties, many of them basic and unnecessary, equals a pretty sloppy performance overall, despite earning a four-try bonus point win. The decision making was off at times and England were too passive at the breakdown, regularly forcing Ben Youngs to deal with slow ball if the turnover wasn’t conceded.

Maybe the unforced errors can be put down to opening night nerves – at least that’s what England fans will be hoping, as make no mistake, stronger tests await.

Strong defence and set piece
While there are things to grumble about (we are English fans after all), if we dig a little deeper there are plenty of positives too. Manu Tuilagi will take the plaudits for his barnstorming two-try performance, but for me the biggest positive was a second game in a row without conceding a try.

While no one really expected Tonga to spring an upset, make no mistake they do have
dangerous players. England missed a few first up tackles against powerful runners like Cooper Vuna and Siale Piutau, but their scramble defence was very strong and they denied Tonga any real try scoring opportunity.

Alongside that they recorded 100% on both scrum and line out – on the surface nothing to write home about, but among the other tier 1 teams in action, Ireland were the only other to achieve that. Sometimes the basics are worth celebrating.

As is Ben ‘the Wardrobe’ Tameifuna, for having the best nickname in rugby.

France will be no pushovers
Not technically a talking point from the England game, but anyone who watched France squeak past Argentina will have taken note. For 30 minutes or so France looked very, very good, racing to a 20-3 lead at half time.

The Toulouse halfback pairing of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, just 22 and 20 years old respectively, look lethal and have injected real cohesion and attacking intent into the French team.

Of course, France being France they then endeavoured to throw it all away as Argentina dragged themselves back into the match – ultimately it wasn’t enough but it would have been the biggest points overhaul in World Cup history.

In that first half, France demonstrated more incisive and dangerous rugby than in the entirety of the Six Nations. I for one am not expecting a repeat of the 44-8 drubbing dished out by England earlier this year when these two teams meet again in the pool stages. England will need to be infinitely sharper and more focused than they were against Tonga to beat the French – or the Argentinians for that matter.

By Henry Ker

14 thoughts on “Rugby World Cup 2019: Three talking points from England’s win over Tonga

  1. I think our media have been unfair to tonga. They had a terrible game against all blacks but upped their game against us. World cup warm ups are exactly that a warm up they count for nothing. Tonga turned up and were powerful and resilient.
    England made plenty of mistakes, but to our credit we never let that stop us, we played hard for 80 mins we secured the bonus point, it wasnt pretty, it wasnt great.
    You talk about france being dangerous but they were lucky. The second try came from a forward pass and should of been chalked off, which would of meant Argentina won. France were lucky not good. Argentina started slow but by the second half france looked like typical france… Basically im saying you all spent pre wc building us up, but it was just to complain about us afterwards. It helps us 0 stop building us up before tournaments and just let the team go out there with no expectations but our support. Yes we want to win, but lets respect our opponents no matter who they are and just do our best… Thats what the true fans want! The lifting of the trophy id the cherry on top, but if you cant get it, its far better to look back and say “well we couldn’t have asked anymore of our players” and to be proud of them

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  2. These guys spent 3 months in camp had 4 warm up games and are paid a small fortune to play the game efficiently and competently.This level of performance was poor and if I was their employer I would be telling them so and worried about why it occurred.Comparison with the past is not very useful as the game is now much more professional.

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    1. I think we have to remember that for a lot of our team, this was their first World Cup match. No amount of camp training or warm up games can prepare you for the emotions and adrenalin you would be feeling when playing in your first World Cup match?

  3. i wonder if we are seeing that old devil called English mental fragility even at this early stage? We were really nervy which was reflected in the sheer number of handling errors and general sloppiness of our play.

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  4. I’m speaking a little off the cuff here but I can see this England team imploding in a tough QF match. We do have some serious raw talent throughout the squad in terms of athletes, speed, power BUT something is just a miss in terms of mental cohesion. They seem over drilled into set tactics which is great when goes to plan, but as we have seen, when it doesn’t there is a lack of ability to change things up. Then EJ solution always seems to be to empty the bench – which often is unbalanced.

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  5. We come back to Henry’s article a few weeks ago about the schizophrenic nature of English displays for ages now.
    I wonder what they are being told in camp. We all saw Ed raging about some of the dire handling and decision making during Sundays game so maybe the blame does lie solely with the players? Or, is too much expected of them?
    Is Ed the dreaded tyrant that many portray him as?

    1. Without taking the easy answer our Acee, its a mixture of all of the above I feel. That said I would say the game on Sunday needs to rest more on the players shoulders; EJ doesn’t make someone drop a ball, overrun a pass or lie all over a ruck to give a pen away. However what I would have liked to have seen is the supposed ‘string pullers’ Faz, Ford, Youngs change up the game rather than kick the ball to death – now that might come from the tyrant coaching and players not feeling they have the confidence/trust from EJ??

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    1. Yes it could well be, and likely is. I just feel like this is echoing same issues as the latter part of the Lancaster era and he was not a tyrant (as far as we know) yet there was this same talk back in 2014/15 of the England players being over coached, shackled, castrated, brainwashed – whatever you want to call it! I know its easy for me to say sitting behind a laptop but surely if you are one of the ‘leaders’ of the squad and most experienced you should have the rugby sense and confidence to pull the lads together on the field and change things up a bit. I am not talking re-inventing the wheel halfway through a game, but simply using some common sense. To flip it on its head, for all we know EJ might give the leaders that free will to alter from Plan A, but they just cannot do it, hence he is often seen banging the desk and looking like he wants to throw himself through the glass of his vieiwng box! Just a thought…….

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  6. Errors, strong defence, set piece, Fr a threat? Suppose a ? is why errors are occurring. I mean this was chalk & cheese compared to the Ireland game in Dublin, away. Not an issue then, so why now? Rust? Over training? Head space? The ‘D’, set piece are usually well drilled & fairly sound, particularly when dominant. Issues can occur when stressed, under pressure however; like most teams. Same for the French though. If England keep their thinking going better than France, deal with the pressure better, they should prevail.

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    1. Looked like nerves to me . They are putting too much expectation on themselves and focusing on results not what needs to be done to get them

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      1. having just watched the latest “Rising Sons”vid, I was surprised to hear Ed admit that although this is his fourth World cup, it is the one he is most nervous about. maybe he is transmitting that to the players?

  7. Makes some sense H’quin. May have been nervous, rusty, but when does this stop? Weren’t in Dublin. You’re right. They are paid pros whom have had prep time. There’s a need to ‘deliver now.. as for all teams. Like life, it ain’t a rehearsal. Likely qualify, but it’s also about laying down a marker to rivals.

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