England got their World Cup campaign off to a scrappy start in Sapporo on Sunday with a 35-3 Pool C victory over Tonga as Manu Tuilagi scored two tries while skipper Owen Farrell added 15 points with the boot.
Four years on from their first-round exit on home soil, England were keen to put on a commanding, clinical performance against the Pacific islanders, particularly after the All Blacks had thrashed them 92-7 in a World Cup warmup earlier in September. But the Tongans, led by big-hitting loose forwards Sione Kalamafoni and Zane Kapeli, proved difficult to break down at the Sapporo Dome and it was only rampaging centre Tuilagi’s tries that gave England an 18-3 advantage at halftime.
With a combination of basic errors and indiscipline robbing England of momentum, they had to wait until the 56th minute for their third try as hooker Jamie George went over off the back of a driving maul.
England somehow failed to claim their fourth try when Henry Slade failed to connect with Elliot Daly with the line at their mercy but replacement front-rower Luke Cowan-Dickie claimed the bonus point try after being sent clear by Jonathan Joseph.
Captain Farrell, however, was delighted to get off to a winning start.
“A lot to work on, a lot to build on but to come away with a bonus point win at a World Cup is always a good start,” he said, adding that England had used the kick-and-chase tactic well to nullify Tonga’s physical threat.
“Tonga are a very physical team and to give them targets to hit would be playing into their hands. I thought we chased well and got some opportunities off the back of it.
“There’s still some mistakes that we can look at and get better at but that’s the exciting thing, we still have got a lot more in us.”
Tuilagi, wearing a Tongan shirt as he received the player of the match award, said: “We knew coming into this game Tonga was going to be a tough test for us but we managed to get the five points and it’s a great start for our campaign.”
England next face the United States in Pool C on Thursday while Tonga take on Argentina on Saturday.