England 35-3 Tonga: Manu Tuilagi double helps England to bonus point in Rugby World Cup opener
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 22/09/19 8:52pm
Manu Tuilagi ran in two tries to set England on course for a 35-3 bonus-point victory over Tonga in their 2019 Rugby World Cup opener.
The teams were level after 14 minutes in Sapporo following an exchange of penalties before Tuilagi's two first-half scores helped England in an 18-3 lead at the break.
Jamie George added a third try just before the hour, but England's play became disjointed following a string of replacements and a litany of handling errors contributed to them being unable to add to their tally until the closing stages.
The try-scoring bonus point eventually came through Luke Cowan-Dickie four minutes from time and while it was exactly the start England would have wanted, there were still one or two things for Eddie Jones to ponder ahead of Thursday's clash with the USA.
Head coach Jones' selection for England's first match in Pool C saw a mix of pace and power in the backline, with Farrell's move back to inside centre giving an extra in-play kicking option behind George Ford.
There was a sign of how effective that approach could prove to be in the seventh minute when fly-half Ford sent a pinpoint kick wide to the right for Anthony Watson, only for the winger to knock on in the air close to the line under pressure from Viliami Lolohea.
England got their first points on the board three minutes later when skipper Farrell slotted over a penalty from 25 metres out, but it was not long before the Pacific Islanders were back on level terms with a kick of their own.
It came when Billy Vunipola, whose father captained Tonga against England at the 1999 World Cup, was on the receiving end of a booming tackle by Zane Kapeli followed by great work at the breakdown to earn a penalty which Sonatane Takulua slotted over.
England stuck to their task patiently though and almost got their reward on a 23 minutes when Sam Underhill thought he had forced his way over following an incisive break by Tuilagi, only for Siale Piutau and Maama Vaipulu to combine to hold the flanker up over the line
But from the resulting five-metre scrum, Tuilagi took the ball up and the man of the match powered his way through several would-be tacklers to score England's first try, although Farrell was unable to convert
England were then given a let-off from the restart when a mix-up between Maro Itoje and Kyle Sinckler saw them give away a penalty for obstruction, only for Tonga scrum-half Takulua to miss the target.
It did not take long for them to regain their composure though and some neat interplay between Elliot Daly and Jonny May led to the Gloucester winger streaking off down the right before passing back inside for Tuilagi to grab his second of the match, with Farrell adding the extras this time.
Underhill was making a nuisance of himself too and his efforts led to a penalty in front of the posts in the 36th minute, which came from an unusual sequence of events and resulted in Tonga prop Siegfried Fisiihoi illegally playing a loose ball on his own try-line followed by Farrell slotting it over.
The skipper added a third successful penalty kick two minutes into the second half and he was on hand to convert the third try when followed in the 57th minute, with England's pack overpowering their Tongan counterparts with a maul from a line-out and hooker George getting the crucial touch with his final act before being replaced by Cowan-Dickie.
It seemed as if the bonus-point try would never come though as the match became scrappy and England lost their clinical edge - typified in the 74th minute when a dangerous attack fell apart as Daly over-ran wide on the left and replacement Henry Slade's pass missed its intended target.
But it did arrive two minutes later when a scything run from another replacement, Bath centre Jonathan Joseph, opened up the Tonga defence and ended up with the 28-year-old sending Exeter man Cowan-Dickie away for his third try in an England shirt, again converted by Farrell.
Tonga kept searching for a consolation try, going through 15 phases with the final act of the game before a knock-on brought it to an end, allowing England to celebrate an opening victory.