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England beats Brave Blossoms with four tries on the ground.


With a gritty 34-12 victory over Japan in Nice, England moved closer to the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals, but they didn't exactly wow anyone.

An England miscue-filled first half ended with Lewis Ludlam forcing his way over from close range for the nation's sole try.

Early in the second half, Rikiya Matsuda's kick had brought Japan within one point at 13-12, but a fortunate try by England's captain Courtney Lawes, after the ball had deflected off Joe Marler's head, gave England some breathing room.

Before Joe Marchant dove over in the game's closing play, Freddie Steward received a cross-kick to dot down skillfully and put an end to any chances Japan had of pulling off another Rugby World Cup upset to follow their legendary slaughter of South Africa in 2015.

However, neither the final score nor the performance should have alarmed any of the top contenders for the championship.

The market leaders France, Ireland, and South Africa will have received confirmation that they are still performing at a level above England, if anything.

A few of England's decisions to kick away attacking balls were met with whistles and jeers, which suggested some of their supporters weren't as impressed.

Steve Borthwick's team is well prepared for the quarterfinals thanks to two victories in two games against what were arguably their two strongest Pool D opponents.

But in order to be prepared for the transition to knockout rugby, they will need to make a sharp and drastic improvement against Chile and Samoa.

The final quarter saw England improve and Japan deteriorate, although the majority of the game remained consistent with the beginning.

In a fast-paced opening sequence, Marchant and Steward came dangerously close to scoring as the Japanese defence began to falter. However, to the cheers of the audience, George Ford decided to settle for three points from a penalty rather than risking more.

If it was a missed opportunity, it was not the first. Those taunts wouldn't be the last either.

Borthwick's team increased their pressure and gained better attacking positions, but their glaring blunders constantly let Japan off the hook and go back upfield.

A chance was lost as Alex Mitchell's ball from the back fell to the ground as England's forwards drove a line-out up to the Japan 22-meter line. As Lawes held onto the ball for too long with Elliot Daly outside of him, another vanished. At the back of a line-out, Ben Earl missed a third opportunity by throwing a pop-pass right into the face of Jamie George of the Saracens.

The single try England scored in the first half was, appropriately enough, the result of a mistake rather than their own accuracy.

Ollie Chessum caught a line-out throw from Japan that was near to their own line. When the ball was recycled and Ludlam charged at the sagging periphery, the Brave Blossoms' defenders scrambled to end the threat but was badly out of shape.

At the other end, errors cost England as well. Before Jonny May was flagged for a late hit, Lomano Lemeki charged down Ford's clearing kick. Matsuda's subsequent successful penalties allowed Japan to maintain its lead and close the gap to one point in the 54th minute.

A shock looked inescapable with a tenacious Japan refusing to allow a misfiring England escape the firing line.

But much like in their opening match against Argentina, England managed to escape a difficult situation.

Their second attempt was brought about by yet another error, this time their own. The Japan defence was caught off guard as a pass sailed between the hands of replacement prop Will Stuart and clanked into Marler's head. This allowed Lawes to seize the opportunity and amble under the goal posts.

Fortunately, Japan's challenge was broken, and Steward's outstanding gather and dot-down from Ford's cross-field bomb put an end to the game as a contest before Marchant scored late to polish the scoreboard.

There were many advantages. Earl put up an excellent performance, recording the most tackles and joint-most yards of any England player, and Ludlam also stood out in the back row. Marcus Smith enjoyed a quick amusing cameo at full-back off the bench as Ford managed the backline excellently.