Joe Marler uses his head to spare England’s blushes after error-strewn performance against Japan
It was a try that rather summed it all up. For 56 minutes, England and Japan had stumbled about, frantic, flustered and fumbling in the Nice heat. An error-ridden contest hung in the balance – until Joe Marler used his head.
It was fortuitous in nature, as it felt like it had to be on a night like this. An errant pass, a flick of Will Stuart’s shoulder and a bounce off the bonce. Courtney Lawes collected the refuse and England salvaged the situation. Maro Itoje had promised they were prepared to win by any means necessary but few expected them to need to put an equally error-prone Japan away.
There was time enough for one moment of magic: England had kicked inaccurately all night but George Ford at last arrived at the jive, a delicate dab off his left boot landing in Freddie Steward’s huge hands in the corner. Coupled with Joe Marchant’s bonus-point-securing score, at last the travelling fans who earlier flooded the Promenade des Anglais could get out of their seats.
But until then, precious little. Given the rush job in getting this side together, England are likely to favour substance over style but they had not even that here. Perhaps what was most stark on a night where Japan gave them plenty was how the bedrock of their game faltered – inaccuracy with the boot and some set-piece errors. The foundations may have been put down in last week’s win against Argentina but the rest of England’s grand designs are yet to come together.
In retrospect, Semisi Masirewa’s first-minute fumble set the tone for the slipshod contest to come. The Japan full back ambled back beyond his own line to collect a grubber but could not grasp it, with a subsequent penalty granting Ford the chance to put England in front. Masirewa lasted not even