In Depth

Rugby World Cup is ‘a marathon not a sprint’, says England coach Eddie Jones

Manu Tuilagi stars with two tries in opening pool C victory against Tonga

Rugby World Cup pool C England 35 Tonga 3 

It was far from perfect, and at times not that pretty, but England took maximum points from their opening Rugby World Cup match against Tonga. 

In a one-sided contest, England ran in four tries to secure a bonus point, as they suffocated their opponents 35-3.

Tonga didn’t get to within five yards of England’s try-line until stoppage time, but what they lacked in creativity they more than made up for in full-blooded defensive commitment, restricting England to four tries. 

One of those days

Eddie Jones’s men grew more frustrated as the match wore on at their inability to break down the Tongans, spilling a number of passes and giving away numerous penalties through indiscipline. 

“Some days it flows and some days it doesn’t,” Jones reflected. “We dropped a couple of balls that would normally result in tries but you have 80 minutes to score four tries and we did that. One thing I’m very happy about is that we haven’t conceded a try in the last two Tests.”

Aware that it was a far from perfect opening performance, Jones reminded reporters that a Rugby World Cup is about winning six matches, not one. 

“I’ve been to a few World Cups and it’s not a 100-metre sprint,” he said. “You don’t have to come out of the blocks and be absolutely fantastic now. 

“You have to be steady and... have a mindset of improvement - and that’s what we have.”

Manu Tuilagi celebrates his second try against Tonga with England team-mate George Ford

David Rogers/Getty Images

Tough Tongans

Much was made going into the match of the fact that New Zealand put 92 points past the Tongans last month, but that wasn’t a World Cup match and the Pacific Islanders have a proud record in rugby’s showpiece tournament. 

In previous World Cups they’ve beaten Italy and France, and in 2007 they gave eventual tournament winners South Africa a scare before going down 30-25.

Based on the evidence of France’s plodding win against Argentina on Saturday, the Tongans will believe that if they can add some attacking oomph to their game they have the talent to beat both those sides in the weeks ahead. 

Momentum builder

England have a short turnaround, playing the United States in pool C on Thursday (11.45am BST, live on ITV).

With no major injury scares - a knock to the knee of Henry Slade was the only cause of concern - Jones will be pleased that a potential banana skin has been avoided and they can continue to build momentum and iron out flaws against the weakest nation in the pool. 

“We weren’t sharp enough but we have a few games to go before we really need to be,” said Jones. “We have five points and no serious injuries so that is a blessing for us.”

Two of England’s tries were scored by man-of-the-match Manu Tuilagi, who had his best game in an England shirt for five years, and Jones believes the Leicester centre is going to get better as the tournament goes on. 

“He has got pace and power and he ran some great lines,” said Jones. “He is going to have a great World Cup.”

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Reactions to England’s win 

Matt Dawson, England 2003 World Cup winner

“England won’t be happy with that. Ten penalties I made it, numerous handling errors. That’s unacceptable for the standards that Owen Farrell and Eddie Jones have set. They’re the sorts of things that you can fix and work on.” 

Ben Kay, England 2003 World Cup winner

“England will know that their display was not good enough and they will know they have lots to work on, but that is not a bad place to be after game one.”

Stuart Barnes, The Times

“Tonga may not be the All Blacks, but this proud Pacific nation tackled so well that they never allowed England to find their rhythm.”

England captain Owen Farrell

“It’s a good start. There’s a lot to work on. Tonga are a very physical team. Mistakes are mistakes, we’ve still got a lot more in us.”

Today’s back pages

England try ‘Fergie time’ against Tonga

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