England survives Japan scare

England's Mark Wilson scores their second try during the Rugby Union clash against Japan at the Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, Britain, on Saturday. — Reuters

TWICKENHAM, United Kingdom — England came from behind to beat Japan 35-15 at Twickenham on Saturday as they avoided a shock defeat by the 2019 World Cup hosts.

Japan led 15-10 at half-time and were threatening an upset to rival their stunning 34-32 win over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup, when they were coached by current England boss Eddie Jones.

But England scored 25 unanswered points after the break, with late tries from Test debutant Joe Cokanasiga and Dylan Hartley sealing victory.

England scrum-half Danny Care scored the first try of the match after just three minutes but Japan's passing, led by their No 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, and handling was far sharper in the opening stages of a dry day well-suited to their running game.

Japan's enterprising play was rewarded with tries by center Ryoko Nakamura and captain Michael Leitch.

Meanwhile England again paid the price for indiscipline, with hooker Jamie George, starting in place of regular co-captain Hartley, sin-binned.

But England recovered to lead thanks to openside flanker Mark Wilson's first Test try and the boot of George Ford, their captain for this match, before powering away.

"Eddie spoke at half-time with Dylan as well as Ford, they spoke to the team to try and get us back on track," England lock Maro Itoje told Sky Sports.

"We just needed to up it, they were beating us round the corner and winning the one-on-ones. Japan are a good team but we should be beating them."

Jones made 11 changes to the side that suffered an agonizing 16-15 loss at home to world champions New Zealand last weekend, with Fiji-born Cokanasiga — who arrived in England aged just three — included.

Fly-half Ford, winning his 50th cap, led the team out after being benched for a 12-11 win over South Africa and the All Blacks loss.

Japan's 'amateur' players were earning £14 (2,000 Yen) per day for this game, whereas their England counterparts received £25,000 per match.

Just the second Test between the two countries was proof of Japan's progress, with coach Jamie Joseph saying: "We gave sloppy penalties away and allowed England back in which was a little bit disappointing, but I'm proud of the players all the same.

"It was a big experience for us and it's exactly what we need as we get into the World Cup next year," the former New Zealand international added.

"Our mentality is slowly changing, we're starting to believe that we can take these bigger teams on and that's going to help us next year."

Cokanasiga was quickly into the action as England went ahead, being released by full-back Elliot Daly. He in turn found George on his inside, who delivered a scoring pass to Care.

Japan got on the scoreboard thanks to fly-half Yu Tamura's long-range effort in the 16th minute. Soon afterwards, England were a man down when George was yellow-carded for killing the ball.

From the ensuing scrum, Tanaka fired the ball to Nakamura, who went in under the posts after Alex Lozowski — replaced by regular co-captain Owen Farrell at half-time — missed a tackle.

Tamura converted and Japan led 10-7 before England won a scrum penalty on the halfway line that saw long-range kick specialist Daly's superb 50-meter strike level the scores.

But Japan hit back after they caught England napping with a quick line-out. The ball was worked back and across the field before finding its way to Leitch out on the right.

The flanker powered through tackles by replacement hooker Dylan Hartley and Care before side-stepping Daly for the try.

Ford's penalty punished a rare Japan infringement early in the second half and England went ahead on the hour mark.

Powerful running by replacement prop Kyle Sinckler and Itoje paved the way for Ford to find Wilson with a clever inside pass for a converted try.

England put the result beyond doubt when replacement scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth released Cokanasiga who charged over before Hartley finished off a driving maul.

England complete their 2018 program at home to Australia on Nov. 24 when Japan play Russia in Gloucester in a dress rehearsal for the World Cup's opening game. — AFP