England are starting to build something big in Japan. An unexceptional, though highly-professional, beginning to the tournament saw Eddie Jones’ recruits safely into the knockout stages, with the men in white continuing to improve as they swept aside old enemies Australia in the quarters.
Now, they can prepare for a mouth-watering showdown with New Zealand in the last four, but are we likely to see any alterations from Jones ahead of that encounter? On the evidence of how his starting XV performed on Saturday, probably not – here’s how each player got on versus the Wallabies.
Mako Vunipola – 9
Whenever a prop posts stats like Vunipola did on the weekend, it’s difficult not to lavish praise upon them. The Saracen made a colossal 20 tackles against Australia, whilst also carrying with vigour and purpose as the English overwhelmed their opponents. We’re very, very pleased to have you back, Mako.
Jamie George – 8
Like prop, like hooker; George was equally combative in defence during an ultra-physical, fierce showing from the 29-year-old. However, he actually surpassed Mako in terms of his work with ball-in-hand, racking up the metres and bulldozing across the gainline. If lineouts had been more accurate and George hadn’t conceded a penalty, he would have been a contender for Man of the Match.
Kyle Sinckler – 8
What a delightful running line Sinckler picked to scythe through the Aussies and crash home under the uprights. That level of power and brawn are commonplace in his game, though a crucial turnover in the second-half was a welcome surprise, too.
Maro Itoje – 7
As England’s chief lineout caller, the joy Michael Cheika’s men had in that area of the contest is partially Itoje’s fault. Of course, the Wallabies have several top-class stealers in their ranks, so it’s not as though the England star was the sole reason for his opponent’s success there. Otherwise, an industrious display from an integral player in the side.
Courtney Lawes – 7
Once again, some issues at the lineout are a small blot on this lock’s report card. Nevertheless, we saw some vintage Lawes tackling that prove he is the right man to partner Itoje in the second-row.
Tom Curry – 9 (MOTM)
How is this guy England’s most consistent performer at the tender age of 21? He’s a phenomenal athlete, as demonstrated by his relentless running, strong tackle-count, and superb carrying. Curry is the future of this team, and what a future it’s set to be.
Sam Underhill – 8
Underhill marginally outshone Curry with regards to his tackling numbers, but overall, the boy wonder wins. That’s no downer on the Bath flanker’s showing at Oita Bank Dome, with his repertoire of skills – both attacking and defensive – a significant factor in an ultimately-comfortable triumph for the Red Roses.
Billy Vunipola – 7
Because Billy is being targeted by every side he comes up against, he seems to be making less of an impact than he had in previous years. However, his role allows those around him to do what they do best. Without Billy, his teammates wouldn’t have found so much space to exploit, although the number eight would be well-advised to watch his discipline in the semi-final encounter with the All Blacks.
Ben Youngs – 6
A try went missing for Youngs as he knocked-on with the whitewash at his mercy. That was one of a number of errors from the scrum-half, who is yet to show his true colours in Japan. For the most part, he was solid on Saturday and offered a calming presence, but a few too many errors crept into his game.
Owen Farrell – 8
Farrell’s composure and ability to take the ball to the line were on full display as he put in a fabulous performance to tear through Australia. Whenever he had possession, the Wallaby backline looked troubled, and for good reason – Farrell was the man who linked it all together in a dominant England victory.
Jonny May – 8
A late injury was the only negative from May on the weekend. A devastating finisher, his ungodly pace secured his country’s first two tries of the match, whilst his defence was up to the test as Cheika’s side threatened to reel the English in after the break.
Manu Tuilagi – 7
Tuilagi faced a similar problem to Billy Vunipola in that the Australians focused much of their defensive game-plan on keeping him quiet – it didn’t really work. The giant centre punched into a gold wall all day, rarely breaking tackles, but invariably sucking in numbers and freeing up room for the speed merchants outside him.
Henry Slade – 7
There were a few faulty moments for Slade, such as Marika Koroibete’s score. On the other hand, we saw a stunning display of skill, vision, and poise for May’s second try of the contest, the Exeter Chiefs playmaker putting the ball on a plate for his teammate with a gorgeous grubber through.
Anthony Watson – 7
Good things come to those who wait. Watson had been afforded little opportunity with ball-in-hand, though his feet were still dazzling whenever a fellow England man found him with a bit of room to work with. Then, his crowning moment came in the dying embers of the match as the winger picked off a loose ball from the Australians to put the cherry on top for Jones.
Elliot Daly – 6
There was plenty of food for thought for Daly in the aftermath of the win. His knock-on led to Koroibete going over, with the Australian burning the full-back for pace on a couple of occasions. Aside from that, a very quiet outing for Daly that doesn’t inspire ahead of the All Blacks clash.
Joe Marler – 6
Marler had very little to write home about after coming on for a cameo with the victory already wrapped up. We already know his capabilities and the prop did his reputation no harm.
Luke Cowan-Dickie – 6
I could write the exact same for Cowan-Dickie as I did for Marler…
Dan Cole – 6
… and for Cole, too.
George Kruis – 7
England’s defensive line was bolstered by the introduction of Kruis, who completed his tasks with efficiency and determination. A wonderful replacement for Jones to be able to bring on.
Lewis Ludlam – 7
A surprise selection for the World Cup has become one of the Red Roses’ most impressive ‘finishers’, as Jones labels them. Whenever he enters the field of the play, Ludlam offers grit, a high work-rate, and ruthless tackling.
Willi Heinz – 6
Heinz controlled the game and kept things tight in the handful of minutes he was afforded in Oita.
George Ford – 8
When Jones decided it was time to re-establish the Ford-Farrell axis, Cheika must have been thinking his team’s chance had gone. With the duo’s game-management, intelligence, ad variety of passing and kicking, the Australians were always going to struggle to claw back the deficit.
Jonathan Joseph – 5
Two missed tackle in just over five minutes of action is not the greatest outcome for Joseph. Hopefully, we get to see some more of his galloping runs and stellar footwork in later rounds.
By Ed Alexander