RWC 2019 Pool Game 12: Dominant England too strong for the Eagles

A dominant performance in Kobe has seen a much-changed England rack up another bonus point victory in Pool C, this time chalking up seven tries to see off the USA 45-7.

Coach Eddie Jones named ten different starters to the side that overcame Tonga in their opening match. But there was no drop-off in the cohesion and combinations, while the handling errors that had blighted game one were appreciably absent. Captain for the night George Ford stepped up in fine fashion to orchestrate proceedings and receive the Man of the Match plaudits, while bustling winger Joe Cokanisaga marked his World Cup debut with a brace.

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The game started with a bang – literally, as USA fullback Will Hooley received the kick-off and was immediately smashed by Piers Francis. Referee Nic Berry saw no reason to question the tackle at the time, but given the height of the contact and the outcome of similar incidences at this World Cup, the replays suggested the England centre may yet have a case to answer.

The Eagles suffered a major setback following the first scrum two minutes in, promising young loosehead David Ainuu helped from the field after his left leg was trapped under a collapse. And they were back under their posts just a few minutes later, England’s pacy attack stretching their resources for George Ford to dart through a gap and over for the opener.

Showing their intent to grab the bonus point as soon as possible, Ford eschewed a routine 3pts to kick to touch on 11 minutes, only to see the lineout cruelled by an overthrow. And despite asking most of the early questions, they weren’t getting it all their own way, particularly at the breakdown where the USA were competing admirably.

But the scrum was becoming an issue, England’s pack muscling up to drive their opponent’s back and earn a couple of penalties. And it was off one such infringement that they looked like grabbing a second, incursions from Cokanisaga and Francis getting them within range, before a knock-on from Willie Heinz let the Eagles off the hook.

All the play was in the USA’s half, Ford pulling the strings well and mixing his game up nicely with passes in behind decoy runners, grubbers to the corner to pin defenders, and some testing up’n’unders. But when the first quarter ticked over with no further additions to the scoreboard, England went back to basics to get the job done.

It was a penalty conceded by the Eagles on Ford that gave them the platform, the flyhalf not released in the tackle and again, sending the ball to the stands for a five-metre lineout. This time Luke Cowan-Dickie’s throw met it’s mark, and when Tom Curry took it down and his fellow forwards put their shoulders to the wheel, there was scant resistance to stop Billy Vunipola being driven over the chalk.

The try kick-started a US response, their pivot AJ MacGinty, who plies his trade with English side Sale in the Gallagher Premiership competition, putting up an accurate crossfield-kick for Martin Iosefo to pluck from the air just 10 metres out, only for Ruaridh McConnochie to rustle him into touch before he could strike for the corner.

But it was a brief respite, England’s forwards turning on the blowtorch just after the half hour to procure another five-pointer. The lineout drive was again the weapon of choice, this one even more impressive as they marched almost the entirety of the 22 with the Eagles maul defence – or lack of it – horrifically exposed for Cowan-Dickie to dive home. The fact that the last two defenders manfully trying to prevent the inevitable were the halfback combo of MacGinty and Shaun Davies, tells its own story.

They could, perhaps should have had their bonus point before half-time. A deft chip over the top from Elliot Daly was taken in his stride by a surging Jonathan Joseph, but his offload to Cokanisaga with one man to beat for the line was dropped cold by the big winger. But as the teams headed to the sheds one thing was certain, England would have plenty more chances in the second stanza.

The ominous scenario facing the Eagles was the strength of the English bench. Coach Jones introduced Mark Wilson to the no.8 jersey in place of Vunipola at the break, while both props were also changed, the dynamic duo of Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler ensuring that the pace of the game up front would only increase.

That looked like paying immediate dividends when a quick-fire 11 phases had the USA back under pressure and coughing up another penalty. But the previously unflappable Ford blotted his copybook, and didn’t endear himself to his pack of forwards either, when he kicked the ball dead on the wrong side of the corner flag.

When the all-important fourth try did come, it was of a more aesthetically pleasing kind. There didn’t appear to be much more on than a shuffle ball wide when Jonathan Joseph received a pass from Tom Curry on the edge of the 22. But the elusive centre dummied and span 360 degrees to take out three defenders, before bursting through the tackle of two more to get within a metre, and Ford was quickly on hand to pop it up for Cokanisaga to dive home.

That was the signal for the introductions of Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell at 9 and 12 respectively, and for England to begin to cut loose and run free. However, it was the set-piece dominance that was still offering them the platform with which to thrive upon.

A scrum penalty right in front of the posts just before the hour mark led to a call to pack down again. And after Farrell and Wilson had carried hard off the back of the second engagement to get them within range, a couple of quick passes out wide allowed Joseph to send McConnochie into the corner for his first test try.

Number six wasn’t far behind, England cruising through the gears in style now and showcasing their improved offloading skills with a lovely team score. It came courtesy of a poor clearing kick upfield from the Eagles that was taken in by Daly, the ball returned with interest through the hands of another nine different players, before Ford stepped inside a tackle and sent Lewis Ludlam scampering over.

Things took a drastic turn for the worse for the USA in the 69th minute, flanker John Quill rightfully shown a red card for a disgraceful shoulder to the head of Owen Farrell that floored the inside centre. But the England skipper is tough as teak, and was back – bloodied and all – calling the shots a minute later, with a lovely grubber to the corner that should have brought a second for Cokanisiga if he hadn’t knocked on as he slid in to collect.

He didn’t have to wait long to make amends. A terrific break down the sideline from Ellis Genge, emerging from a lineout maul to fend off one tackler and barrage another two more out of the way as he carried 40 metres, set up the opening. And when Youngs and Ford arrived to combine for Cokanisiga to stretch his legs up the middle, he simply had too much power and pace for the cover defence to hold.

That should have been that, but if there was one thing that the England coaching staff would not have been pleased with despite the dominant performance, in particular defence coach John Mitchell, it was what happened in the final minute.

Given the chance to put the ball into the stands after the full-time gong sounded, they played on in search of the half century. But it backfired when a promising attack was turned over and the Eagles went 80 metres upfield through Iosefo, and after several sloppy possession changes Bryce Campbell pounced to grab a popular consolation.

That is a level of casualness they can ill afford against Argentina or France.

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ENGLAND 45 (Joe Cokanisaga 2, George Ford, Billy Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ruaridh McConnochie, Lewis Ludlam tries; George Ford 5 cons) defeated USA 7 (Bryce Campbell try; AJ MacGinty con) HT 19-0 at Kobe Misaki Stadium

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