England first wore Japan down then scored a bizarre try and rolled to a 34-12 win and a second straight victory at the Rugby World Cup on Monday morning.
With Japan trailing only 13-12 nearing the hour mark, the odd try gave England breathing space.
Flyhalf George Ford’s pass glanced off prop Will Stuart’s arm backwards and ricocheted forwards off prop Joe Marler’s mohawk into the grateful hands of captain Courtney Lawes who walked in between the posts. Ford’s conversion made it 20-12.
Moments later, Japan cut through England’s defence but knocked on with the line in sight and momentum was lost. England’s third try soon followed, when Ford sent a clever crosskick from right to left and fullback Freddie Steward caught it and twisted into the corner.
Good work from right winger Jonny May created space and the ball was quickly moved to the middle, where center Joe Marchant went over for the bonus-point fourth try.
Coach Steve Borthwick’s England is not playing well and kicking too much, but is in pole position to win Pool D.
England’s first try in the 24th minute, thanks to more fluky touches, went to No. 8 Lewis Ludlam. He was one of three changes by Borthwick to the side which beat Argentina 27-10 with 14 men for nearly the whole game following Tom Curry’s red card. Ford scored all of England’s points then and added 14 more against the Brave Blossoms.
Ford and opposite flyhalf Rikiya Matsuda traded early penalties, either side of Japan fullback Semisi Masirewa limping off injured after being clobbered kicking away.
Humid conditions in southern Nice frazzled the thinking and Ford got away with messing up his clearance kick midway through the first half. Scrumhalf Alex Mitchell just about covered as the ball bounced perilously close to the right corner.
Then, an England offside nearly led to a try when Japan kicked ahead but knocked on. Still, Matsuda’s penalty put Japan ahead.
A Ford kick pinned them back, Japan botched its own lineout catch and slapped the ball to England, and Ludlam burrowed over for a converted score.
After Matsuda closed the gap following a sloppy error by May, the steady boot of Ford to put the Red Roses 13-9 up.
A scrappy start to the second half saw little to suggest England or Japan would spark their attacking game.
It was attritional and gritty, with kickers ticking the scoreboard along. Matsuda’s fourth penalty made it a one-point game once more with 25 minutes to play.
Then came the bizarre Lawes try that changed the game.
Flanker Michael Leitch broke Japan’s record with his 15th Rugby World Cup game, but otherwise they had little to cheer.
England face Chile next Saturday in Lille while Japan, which opened with a sluggish 42-12 win against Chile, plays Samoa on Sept. 28 in Toulouse.