Eddie Jones credited a visit from Sir Alex Ferguson, the former Manchester United manager, for giving his players the belief to score a late bonus-point try as they opened their Rugby World Cup 2019 campaign with a 35-3 Pool C win over Tonga in the Sapporo Dome today.
Ferguson’s career featured numerous late winning goals, scored in a period referred to as “Fergie time” and England left it late to put Luke Cowan-Dickie in for the crucial fourth try to earn the bonus point.
England had seen two early chances ruled out by the television match official and although two tries from the impressive Manu Tuilagi, pictured above, and one from Jamie George had put Jones’s team in control, they seemed destined to fall short of that all-important fourth try.
The fact that England kept their composure and found a way to score delighted Jones who said: “We were lucky enough to have Sir Alex Ferguson in, and he was renowned for ‘Fergie time’, and the message was to be patient and that’s what I liked about our team today, we keep on and it came in the end, and that’s the sign of a good team.
“The only thing we have to worry about is the USA game. I’ve been to a few World Cups and it’s not a 100m sprint. You don’t have to start fantastic, you have to be steady and improve and have a mindset of improvement and that’s what we have.
“The team is feeling good, it’s a good point. It’s nice to get the bonus point and be up and running.”
Despite that bonus-point win, there are areas of concern for Jones, particularly the number of errors made by his players, which thwarted attempts to build pressure by putting long periods of phase play together and the fact Henry Slade appeared to be struggling having hurt the left knee that had kept him out of the warm-up games.
Keeping a very physical and spirited Tonga team try-less, though, will help ease some of the frustrations being felt in the England dressing room and they know that, with a short turnaround before facing USA on Thursday in Kobe, this is a solid start to their campaign.
“I thought the stuff we were doing was creating pressure and opportunities, but we weren’t quite finishing them off, and we had handling errors, but we had to stay focused and keep on,” Jones said.
England’s lineout was impressive but their scrum came under pressure when Ellis Genge replaced Joe Marler. Jones used his entire replacements bench by the 67th minute and this did cause some disjointed play while the new men fitted in.
The final stages showcased England’s counter-attacking power with Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and Elliot Daly along with Tuilagi cutting through with pace and clever footwork. With Slade possibly struggling to make the USA match, Joseph proved that he is ready to offer an alternative at outside-centre.
Tonga signalled their intent in the opening minutes with a huge tackle on Billy Vuniploa by flanker Zane Kapeli. Amazingly, Vunipola, whose father captained Tonga, bounced up and got straight back into the action.
There were 19 missed tackles by Tonga in the first half and that will disappoint the players and coaching staff.
England’s tackling was also suspect at times but they showed real commitment to the cause as Tonga attempted to finish with a try, only to come up short after 13 phases of play near the opposition line.
With 18 points created in the first half and another 17 in the second, England kept the scoreboard ticking over and they know there is room for improvement.