They stuttered at times, looked far from their peak, and will know performances must improve, but England secured the win and bonus point in their opening game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. They got the job done.
Manu Tuilagi was the star of the show, though a number of teammates were likewise impressive as they defeated Tonga 35-3. The bullish centre grabbed a first-half brace to get Eddie Jones’ men on their way, hooker pairing Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie rounding off the victory with scores after the break. Here’s a breakdown of how each player got on at the Sapporo Dome.
Joe Marler – 6
Jones will be pleased to have Marler available in the absence of Mako Vunipola, who is set to return as the knockout stages get underway. The Harlequins prop was solid at scrum-time and energetic as always, yet a lack of ball-carrying will likely see Vunipola restored at number one once he’s fit.
Jamie George – 7
A strong set-piece gave England stability, which was clearly missing in other areas of the game. Much of that came about thanks to George’s arrows at lineout, the 28-year-old nailing all of his throws prior to coming off for Cowan-Dickie.
Kyle Sinckler – 5
We didn’t get to see those barnstorming carries that have become Sinckler’s trademark, fans instead witnessing a ill-disciplined display from the youngster. He gave away three penalties on his own, but his all-round showing was far from a distaster.
Courtney Lawes – 6
A performance that lacked any standout moments from the mammoth lock. That is not a problem at all; he was dependable, industrious, and gritty. Expect Lawes to gain momentum as the tournament progresses.
Maro Itoje – 8
Itoje carried thrice as many times as Lawes, whilst also making the second highest number of tackles in a white shirt. Add his faultless showing at lineout – which included one steal – and a solitary turnover, and you have a stellar display from England’s talisman.
Tom Curry – 7
As is now customary for the starlet, Curry topped the tackling charts for his country. However, there was a certainly something missing from his game with ball-in-hand, though he was nevertheless reliable at blindside – the Curry-Underhill combination is looking more and more like a masterstroke.
Sam Underhill – 8
Determination and hunger got Underhill across the whitewash in the opening half of the contest, but luck kept him from scoring as the Tongans held the ball up. Still, he was a constant menace for his opponents at the breakdown and in the defensive line, keeping the England pack ticking over when things threatened to tail off.
Billy Vunipola – 5
Vunipola was hardly a ghost on Matchday 1, but he has set such a high bar for himself that games like this are just a little disappointing. On an emotional day for him given his Tongan heritage, the number eight was sound if not spectacular. Surely, he’ll soon be sparkling.
Ben Youngs – 7
One of Youngs’ primary roles it to provide good aerial opportunities for his wingers. That was one of the facets of the game he did well in on Saturday, yet he is another who was ever so slightly subdued on a day when fireworks were expected.
George Ford – 5
Creativity and quality did not flow freely from Ford, the fly-half failing to engineer too many promising attacks for his teammates to finish off. Tonga are far from the sternest defence the Leicester Tigers playmaker will face – let’s hope he’s back to his best come October.
Jonny May – 6
Looked to skip by a couple of defenders, the fleet-footed winger carving Tonga open and timing his pass perfectly for Tuilagi’s second score of the match. A shame he exited the field through injury – a prolonged absence is far from ideal from Jones’ perspective.
Owen Farrell – 5
Four missed tackles simply isn’t on for England’s chief orchestrator and go-to man. In his nation’s first game at the 2019 World Cup, you’d have thought Farrell would be leading the charge and setting the standards. Perhaps, the coach would be well-advised to switch the Saracens’ favourite back to ten.
Manu Tuilagi – 9 (MOTM)
What a beast this fella is. The backline wasn’t cohesive and that played into Tonga’s hands, so Tuilagi changed it up and powered his way through the defence. An immense display from a sorely-missed member of this squad. Few sides would have been able to cope with him in this searing form.
Anthony Watson – 6
A late break took Watson to a total of 117 metres made and demonstrated why he has to be handed the ball more often. He can be truly devastating on occasion and England will be the beneficiaries if he is allowed more time in possession.
Elliot Daly – 7
It wasn’t the most testing of matches for Daly. However, he was proved once again that he’s an excellent option at fullback, dazzling viewers with a couple of jinking runs and creating a try for Tuilagi with a superbly-executed, superbly-timed pass to May on the wing. Seemed to be at fault for over-running Henry Slade’s pass and butchering a 2-on-1, but thankfully it wasn’t crucial.
Luke Cowan-Dickie – 7
His supporting run paid off as Jonathan Joseph capped off a scintillating break through midfield by handing the replacement hooker the ball for a clear path to the line, Cowan-Dickie duly adding a fourth try for his team.
Ellis Genge – 6
A pillar in defence, nothing got through Genge as England kept the Tongans from crossing for a try of their own. He’ll hope for more opportunities to carry in the future.
Dan Cole – 5
Nothing to write home about for Cole. He came on, helped see out the game, and kept it all workmanlike.
George Kruis – 7
His impact was felt, Kruis adding impetus and energy to a fading England side with some aggressive carries and tackles.
Lewis Ludlam – 6
Like Kruis, Ludlam kept things fresh and put no foot wrong as Jones’ recruits saw out the bonus-point victory.
Willi Heinz – 7
There wasn’t an amazing amount of work for Heinz to do. Nevertheless, he maintained his standards from the base and ensured pressure remained firmly on Tonga, who were eventually scythed open by Joseph in the dying minutes.
Henry Slade – 7
Slade looked sharp and capable of doing damage, and should have got an assist, only for Daly to botch a presentable opening.
Jonathan Joseph – 8
With the win in the bag, all that was left for England to do was nab that extra try and maximise their points reward. Joseph was integral to sealing that, the speedster showing the different kind of threat he poses when he created and seized upon a hole in the opponents’ line.
By Ed Alexander