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Rugby World Cup: why England still have a lot of work to do

Special envoy to Nice,.

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Rugby World Cup: why England still have a lot of work to do

Special envoy to Nice,

So far, so good. In form at least... With a second victory in two matches, Sunday in Nice against Japan (34-12), the English took control of Group D with nine points, and the Chilean neophytes and the disappointing Samoans should not give them too much headache to snatch first place.

Placed in the clearly weakest half of the table in the tournament. - Wales, Fiji or Australia, the English have a good card to play. Fundamentally, this selection is still just as worrying, however. On Saturday, Wales had to wait until the last second of their match against Portugal to obtain the offensive bonus point (28-8) in the same Allianz Riviera in Nice. Same scenario for the English neighbor. Joe Marchant in the very last minute of regulation time scored the offensive bonus try, England has certainly reassured itself on an accounting level, but not yet on its offensive capabilities.

The first half in particular was painful to watch for English fans and anyone who loves rugby in general. A festival of lost balls and an inability to play wide. The English (like the Japanese) have a little excuse. The humid, tropical heat that reigned on the Côte d'Azur on Sunday evening made the ball slippery like a bar of soap. The forwards have multiplied in both teams.

“It was undoubtedly not the most beautiful match to watch,” admitted lucidly George Ford, the one-man orchestra of the Quinze de la Rose, less brilliant than against Argentina but author of 14 points and at the origin of the third English try. It's very difficult to play ball in these conditions. With these late hours, the ball is slippery. It's not easy to find how to get the upper hand over the opponent, but in the end we managed it. »

Same story with captain Courtney Lawes: “We wanted to develop good rugby tonight. The conditions were quite difficult to move the ball around, but we saw at times what we are capable of. » And when they managed to advance, they often got rid of the ball by kicking… Wingers Jonny May and Eliot Daily did not see much of the ball on Sunday evening, like against Argentina. 2/3 occupied by the English white jerseys, the Allianz-Riviera in Nice (30,500 spectators) resonated with the sounds of “Swing low, sweet chariot” throughout the match. And another sound was heard. That of the whistles in the first period in front of the poverty of the English game…

But unlike Marseille where they left for a try, these English drafts however flattened on four occasions. Luck was involved too, it must be said. Third row Lewis Ludlam scored the first try thanks to a gift from the Japanese touchline (24th). And the second row Courtney Lawes was able to recover a ball that had bounced... on the head of his pillar Joe Marler (56th), author of a funny decisive pass. Enough to make the native of Eastbourne, fan of neighbor Brighton, who defeated Manchester United in the Premier League this weekend (3-1): “I was inspired by Brighton, who smashed Manchester United, the team that 'encourage my son! I did like them, I got by. Yes, I was a little lucky. But hey, I take the essays as they come. I flattened it just in case, yes, but I was still convinced that there was no forward movement. » The referee, visibly not either… His controversial decision in the 54th minute was the turning point in a match that had long been indecisive and soporific.

The English coach can already be satisfied with one thing: his players finished the match with 15 men, although they had collected three red cards in their last four matches and only conceded six penalties. “Our discipline was better than last week. It’s another step in the right direction for us,” confirms second row Maro Itoje. This group relies on an iron defense and the success at the foot of Ford, whose candles greatly disturbed the Japanese. And that's (almost) it.

For a dying man who suffered a historic defeat against Fiji at Twickenham three weeks ago (30-22), this start to the World Cup is almost unexpected. This fifteen of the Rose - ill in 2023 with six defeats in nine matches before the big meeting, including a historic one at home against the Blues during the Tournament (10-53) - did not become, despite its two inaugural successes , a potential favorite for the final coronation. The work remains too important for the reigning finalists.

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