England wins 35-3 over Tonga, comfortable but not compelling

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SAPPORO, Japan — England was relatively comfortable in beating Tonga 35-3 at the Rugby World Cup on Sunday without the former champion being compelling in the opening game of its 2019 campaign.

Samoa-born center Manu Tuilagi scored two tries in the first half to put England clear and Tonga didn’t come close to an upset in the Pool C game at Sapporo Dome.

The tries showed the range of Tuilagi’s talents. He bashed his way through a pack of Tongan defenders for his first. Then he skipped clear out wide for his second after England created an overlap on the left and wing Jonny May fed him an inside ball.

But England didn’t secure the four-try bonus point until three minutes from the end through replacement hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie. Hooker Jamie George had England’s third early in the second half from a rolling maul.

England, the 2003 World Cup winner, made 13 handling errors and generally played within itself, maybe with an eye on bigger battles when it has to play Argentina and France in consecutive games at the end of the pool stage.

England was sloppy with those errors, which cost it a couple more tries. But the English got out of Sapporo with a victory, a bonus point and apparently no major injuries against a Tongan team with a reputation for bruising physicality.

Coach Eddie Jones was also victorious on his return to Japan, having coached the Japanese team at the last World Cup. He was given a huge cheer before kickoff when his name and face came up on the big screen.

He said he was happy with England’s showing on Sunday night.

Tuilagi’s tries in the 24th and 31st minutes put England in control for good after Tonga, ranked outside the world’s top 10, had held the No. 3-ranked English to 3-3 through the first quarter.

Tuilagi threw off Tongan defenders and muscled his way over after a five-meter scrum and a move down the short side. Tuilagi’s score was confirmed by the Television Match Official just a minute after England had a try ruled out by the TMO because Sam Underhill hadn’t grounded the ball. Tuilagi’s midfield break also started the move for Underhill to go over and the bustling center was clearly England’s best player.

England had a third try ruled out by another TMO decision and there were four TMO referrals in total in the first half, with the other to check the legality of a crunching tackle by Tonga flanker Sione Kalamafoni on Anthony Watson. The TMO ruled it was fine.

The forwards took George over in the corner for the third try and England showed a flash of backline brilliance right at the end when replacement Jonathan Joseph’s searing break set up the bonus-point clinching try for Cowan-Dickie.