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England labour to victory over Japan in World Cup

England laboured to a 34-12 bonus-point victory over Japan in their second error-strewn World Cup match in Nice on Sunday to set themselves up as likely Pool D winners.

Steve Borthwick’s side, who dispelled pre-tournament jitters with a comprehensive 27-10 win over Argentina in their opening match, racked up a fourth win over a Japan team far from its 2019 vintage when they won their four pool matches at their home World Cup.

England will now wrap up their pool play with two games in Lille, against debutants Chile on September 23 and Samoa on October 7, two matches they would back themselves to win.

England had come into the World Cup with just four wins from their last 13 matches, but the victory over Los Pumas had seemingly taken the pressure off.

But they again looked like a shadow of their former selves, producing a litany of handling mistakes and wayward out-of-hand kicking, and generally failing to reproduce the game management needed to boss the match at the Stade de Nice.

An early Semisi Masirewa knock-on behind his own line handed England possession, from which came an opening penalty by George Ford, who ended the game with 14 points.

Japan cranked up the pressure in return, capitalising on a number of English handling errors to take the game to the Red Roses, with skipper Kazuki Himeno omnipresent at the ruck.

A Rikiya Matsuda cross-kick went too long, but the fly-half kicked a resulting penalty to draw the sides level.

Matsuda hit his second penalty in the 23rd minute to hand Japan the lead that was short lived as Ford kicked to the corner, the Japanese line-out misfired and Lewis Ludlam was driven over from short range.

Ford converted but missed a penalty, Matsuda then knocking over his third after Jonny May put in a late hit on Lomano Lemeki.

After booting the leather off the ball, Ford opted to go for the corner in the dying minutes of the first half, but a Jamie George knock-on brought that offensive to a rapid end.

Ford had the last say of the opening 40 minutes with a second penalty to leave it 13-9.

There was an electric start to the second period as England came haring out, but an insistency on kicking gifted the ball back to the Japanese, who withstood the pressure.

Boos and whistles echoed around the stadium as Alex Mitchell and Ford continued to kick possession away, even when close to the Japanese line.

And it was Matsuda who scored the first points of the second-half with his fourth penalty.

Ben Earls and Freddie Steward roared back up the right wing and the decisive moment came when the ball was recycled into midfield.

Courtney Lawes picked up the ball that had bounced in front of him to touch down, the Japanese defence stood stock still in expectation of a knock-on being called.

The television match official, however, ruled that the ball had come off Joe Marler’s head and the try stood, Ford converted for some breathing space at 20-12.

Kotaro Matsushima and Matsuda led the counter-attack deep into England territory.

But the final quarter saw England turn the screw as Japan tired.

Full-back Steward showed great skill to touch down England’s third try, catching Ford’s precision cross-kick and riding Lemeki’s tackle to avoid touch.

Ford converted as the momentum swung England’s way.

A raft of replacements disrupted the rhythm of the match as Joe Marchant crossed late on to guarantee England a bonus point and break Japan’s seven-match winning streak in World Cup pool games.

Standings provided by Sofascore

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