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Rejuvenated England run in eight tries to thrash Japan and open tour in style
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Rejuvenated England run in eight tries to thrash Japan and open tour in style

Better opposition than Japan awaits this developing England team but they will arrive in New Zealand having relished their Tokyo stopover. There was plenty to admire in this eight-try flattening of Eddie Jones’s inexperienced side and they are making life increasingly difficult for opponents with and without the ball.

Jones will certainly have noticed the difference between the careworn team he left behind in late 2022 and the rejuvenated, eager bunch who put his Brave Blossoms to the sword for an hour here. There were a number of impressive individual performers on a warm, sultry afternoon, not least the scrum-half, Alex Mitchell, and the Harlequins pair of Marcus Smith and Chandler Cunningham-South.

The former scored his first try for England while the latter contributed one dagger-sharp try and had a hand or a foot in two others before taking a second-half knock and disappearing to the sin-bin, never to return. Japan did manage a couple of tries in the last quarter but the visitors, until the rhythm was disrupted by waves of substitutes and the 73rd-minute dismissal of Charlie Ewels for a dangerous clear out, were a cut above despite their unfamiliar surroundings.

Ewels will be gutted, having now earned himself the unwanted distinction of becoming the first player to be sent off twice for England. Having been shown a red card in the opening moments of the Six Nations game against Ireland at Twickenham in 2022, he had been on the field in Tokyo for less than five minutes before he lost his balance as he went in to hit a breakdown and took out the Japan captain, Michael Leitch.

Luckily, Leitch was just able to move his leg in time and was not seriously hurt but Ewels faces a ban that will necessitate a squad reshuffle. Otherwise, though, England have come through unscathed for their two-Test series against the All Blacks, with Smith’s early departure merely a case of cramp on a day when the heat made life tricky for almost everyone.

Alex Mitchell (left) and Marcus Smith of England pose in the dressing room after the gameView image in fullscreen

Around the middle of the day, in particular, it was blazingly hot but some relieving light cloud arrived to shield the players from the worst of the glare. It was still humid, though, with temperatures nudging towards 30C, precisely the kind of challenging weather Jones had hoped England would encounter.

To add to the mix Japan, with five debutants in their starting XV, started like bats out of hell. Their ‘go faster’ style of rugby, known as ‘Chosoku’, can be hard to sustain but when it clicks it is absolutely fabulous to watch. Fizzing short passes and deft offloads left England’s defenders briefly clutching at shadows and only a couple of costly fumbles and turnovers prevented the home side from adding to Lee Seung-sin’s early penalty.

England needed to get a grip and, once they did so, their fortunes instantly improved. Mitchell and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso tested out the Japan defence and, with pressure building, Cunningham-South drove over from close range. Assuming the big back-rower stays fit, there will be plenty more high-profile tries to come.

Tom Curry wins a lineout during the matchView image in fullscreen

The visitors’ second try was rather more eye-catching, a training ground move performed to perfection. Jamie George lasered a long throw straight over the top of a lineout to a charging Ollie Lawrence who gathered it on the full before Mitchell fed Smith just under 40 metres out. The fly-half immediately spotted the space available and a slashing right-foot step made the most of the opportunity.

It was no surprise when Smith was also involved in England’s third try just before the half hour, throwing a long pass to Feyi-Waboso to score wide on the right with advantage being played. It was another illustration of England’s increasing ability to test opponents in multiple areas until the cracks can no longer be papered over.

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They also have a wide range of skills at their disposal, as evidenced just before the interval when Smith looked up and despatched a perfectly weighted cross kick towards the same right corner. Up leapt the quietly excellent Henry Slade to do the rest and give England a convincing 26-3 lead at the interval.

The third quarter was one-way traffic as Japan’s debutants were introduced to the harsher realities of Test rugby. Mitchell dummied his way over to cap another positive display and also provided the offload from which Ben Earl scored England’s sixth try. Harry Randall, on for Mitchell, found a little hole to score the seventh before England reverted to power and the relentless Sam Underhill forced his way over to ensure his side hit their half century.

Henry Slade makes a break to score England’s fourth tryView image in fullscreen

The polite home crowd – there were also plenty of empty seats – were at least treated to a couple of late scores from Koga Nezuka and Takuya Yamasawa after being denied a potential penalty try when Smith took out a defender and earned himself a yellow card. England’s penalty count had risen to 17 by the end, much higher than they would like, but their blitz and scramble defence were good and there was even an opportunity for Earl to play a few minutes at inside centre. Aside from Ewels’s premature exit, the management will have been suitably encouraged.

It has also been a week well spent off the field with England’s players having bathed in onsens, attended the baseball, visited a high school and mingled with sumo wrestlers. The days of epic north v south tours may be coming to an end with the new Nations Championship due to start in 2026, but experiencing other cultures is invariably healthy. Next stop the rugby pitches of New Zealand, where a different kind of education traditionally awaits.

Source: theguardian.com