Tuilagi strikes twice as England labour to win
SAPPORO – England had Manu Tuilagi to thank for setting up victory against Tonga with two tries in seven minutes under the roof in Sapporo. But they had to wait until four minutes from time to secure a bonus point through Luke Cowan-Dickie.
Tonga showed limited attacking intent but England head coach Eddie Jones will be hugely frustrated at the number of handling errors in a stop-start performance as well as a general absence of zip in the opposition half.
If there was a muted start to the scoring, at least in comparison with other matches at RWC 2019, there was nothing muted about some of the huge collisions in the early exchanges, none more so than the one that greeted Billy Vunipola from flanker Zane Kapeli.
The teams were level at 3-3 until the 23rd minute before Tuilagi, above, struck twice in quick succession to break some resolute defending by Ikale Tahi.
England hit the front after 10 minutes when Owen Farrell slotted a penalty for offside. Four minutes later, Sonatane Takulua levelled the scores with a kick from a far more difficult position.
England were inches away from a try when Farrell broke from midfield and Richard Underhill was thwarted by some brilliant defence from Tonga captain Siale Piutau, who somehow wedged his hand under the ball as they rolled over the line. The television match official agreed with referee Paul Williams that the ball had not been grounded.
A minute later, though, Tuilagi burrowed over and this time Williams and the TMO were in agreement that he had muscled the ball to the turf in the melee.
On the half-hour, Eliott Daly released Jonny May on the left wing and his inside pass set up Tuilagi for his second try. Farrell converted and then added a penalty, for playing the ball on the ground, to make it 18-3 at the break.
The first 15 minutes of the second half were notable for another Farrell penalty, but little else besides several more fumbles. Jones began to ring the changes and within seconds Jamie George finished a lineout he had taken by emerging from a rolling maul to score.
A final England flourish never arrived and the most woeful error came six minutes from the end when instead of a clear overlap, Henry Slade threw the ball straight into touch.
Time was desperately short when, finally, Jamie Joseph broke through the tiring Tongan ranks and Cowan-Dickie gleefully bagged the all-important fourth try.
Rugby World Cup