Eng­land build mo­men­tum for big tests ahead

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby World Cup - Mick Cleary RUGBY COR­RE­SPON­DENT at the Kobe Misaki Sta­dium

Eng­land are back on track af­ter a per­for­mance full of devil and clev­er­ness, but the sweep of their play was of sec­ondary con­sid­er­a­tion on a sweaty evening here. High tack­les and red cards are the theme of this World Cup and the de­bate over con­sis­tency and dou­ble stan­dards will run and run.

The first red card of the tour­na­ment was shown to United States flanker John Quill for a wild, shoul­der-led as­sault on Owen Far­rell in the 69th minute, but Eng­land were for­tu­nate not to lose Piers Fran­cis af­ter just five sec­onds.

The Northampto­n cen­tre showed up well in a bristling Eng­land dis­play in­spired by the bold, cre­ative play of fly-half George Ford, but his up­field charge from the kick-off led to a high and reck­less clat­ter into US full-back Will Hoo­ley.

The crack­down has be­gun in earnest on such chal­lenges and Fran­cis steamed into con­tact with­out much care and at­ten­tion. Be­ing sent off in the first play of the match could have been a game-changer.

He es­caped any sanc­tion from Aus­tralian ref­eree Nic Berry, but the Hawk-eye cameras miss noth­ing and given the ac­tions taken against Wal­laby wing Reece Hodge, the com­mis­sion­ers are un­likely to turn a blind eye. Berry, a for­mer scrumhalf at Wasps, was him­self forced to re­tire through con­cus­sion. That’s the mea­sure of the de­bate – con­tact with the head can be ca­reer-end­ing.

US coach Gary Gold had no is­sue with the red card shown to Quill for his hor­ri­ble smash into Far­rell, who was just re­gath­er­ing his own knock-on when the Amer­i­can whacked him. Far­rell hit the turf and lay there for a few sec­onds be­fore jump­ing to his feet as a fra­cas en­sued.

World Rugby has been en­tirely right to take the stance it has, re­buk­ing its own of­fi­cials on Tues­day by say­ing that the de­ci­sions on this mat­ter had not been good enough. With news from France that a law­suit has been launched af­ter the death of a Stade Fran­cais player, it is time for the game to get se­ri­ous.

That early Fran­cis blem­ish aside, there is a sense of a gath­er­ing force about Eng­land. On the field, their play was crisper and more var­ied than it had been against Tonga, with the fourth-try bonus se­cured by the 48th minute as Joe Cokanasiga thud­ded over, while off it the stands were packed with white shirts.

All power to the el­bows of the 10,000 or so who had made the trek, for rais­ing a glass of beer to the lips in th­ese parts is not the cheap­est ac­tiv­ity in the world, but the sup­port­ers are pre­pared to pay a price as they know th­ese World Cup ad­ven­tures can yield spe­cial mem­o­ries.

And Eng­land now have prom­ise, far from per­fect, spilling ball in the hu­mid con­di­tions but with a spring in their step with max­i­mum points and no in­juries. Prop Mako Vu­nipola and wing Jack Now­ell have a stren­u­ous fit­ness ses­sion sched­uled to see if they will be in the mix for the game against Ar­gentina in Tokyo tomorrow week.

There is plenty of se­ri­ous busi­ness to come with the toughies in the pool, Ar­gentina and France, cer­tain to pro­vide a sterner test of Eng­land’s re­sources than the US man­aged. Gold, ad­mirably hon­est and straight-talk­ing, ad­mit­ted that “we let our­selves down badly to­day and were taught a les­son”.

They cer­tainly were. It is all very well be­moan­ing the qual­ity of the op­po­si­tion but a team still has to ex­ploit that ad­van­tage and through the con­sum­mate op­er­a­tor that is Ford, Eng­land did just that. Their for­ward pack looked as if they had been feast­ing on the lo­cal spe­cial­ity, the renowned Kobe beef, with a dis­play of full-bore power in the scrum and in the driv­ing maul lead­ing to tries for Billy Vu­nipola and Luke Cowan-dickie.

They pro­vided a plat­form which Ford used to best ad­van­tage, man­ag­ing the game through as­tute kick­ing, flick­ing passes away with real deft­ness and show­ing such sharp foot­work that he was able to score the open­ing try him­self with a dart and then step in­side a de­fender to send Lewis Lud­lam over the line in the 66th minute.

The US were over­whelmed in the set-piece as well as in the kick­ing game and were por­ous in de­fence, with Eng­land run­ning through them at will. Their cause was com­pro­mised by two se­ri­ous-look­ing in­juries, to 19-year-old prop David Ainuu in the very first minute as well as full-back Hoo­ley. There were fur­ther Eng­land tries in the sec­ond half for Cokanasiga, who scored a cou­ple, Ruar­idh Mccon­nochie and Lud­lam.

Eng­land were in their pomp, with prop El­lis Genge run­ning free, but much more rig­or­ous as­sign­ments lie ahead. There is still scope for im­prove­ment but they head to Tokyo on Sun­day in good heart.

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