SAPPORO, Japan (AFP) – Manu Tuilagi scored two tries as England launched their bid for a second Rugby World Cup title with a comfortable but error-strewn 35-3 bonus-point win over Tonga yesterday.
The Samoa-born centre crossed twice under the Sapporo Dome roof in a first half that ended with England well ahead at 18-3.
And second-half scores from hooker Jamie George and replacement Luke Cowan-Dickie saw England secure a bonus point for scoring four tries, a result that could be crucial in a tight Pool C.
In addition England, playing within themselves, also appeared to avoid any injuries to key players.
“We had to toil hard today and I was particularly pleased at the end of the game when we were under the pump a bit, we defended really well,” said England coach Eddie Jones.
“We’d like to be sharper with the ball and that will come. But I was really pleased with the efforts of my players. They worked hard and what a great effort by Tonga.”
England captain Owen Farrell, who kicked 15 points, added, “To come away with a bonus-point win is always a good start to a World Cup.
“There are still some mistakes that we can look at and that’s the exciting thing. We’ve still got a lot more in us.”
Tonga, who’ve lost more than 20 players to other World Cup nations, were vastly improved from the side that suffered a 92-7 warm-up thrashing by world champions New Zealand in Hamilton this month.
“We didn’t play well against the All Blacks and we caught them on a good day,” said Tonga coach Toutai Kefu.
“Today’s effort was a much improved effort.
“England are a good team, they squeezed us for territory in the first half and we couldn’t get into their 30 (metre area) to throw any punches,” added Kefu, who played under Jones for Australia.
England, whose humiliating first-round exit on home soil at the 2015 World Cup led to Jones’s appointment, took an 11th-minute lead when inside centre Farrell landed a penalty.
Tonga scrum-half Sonatane Takulua equalised three minutes later after a thumping hit by flanker Zane Kapeli on England number eight Billy Vunipola, whose father and uncle both played in the Tonga side thrashed 101-10 by England at the 1999 World Cup.
England thought they had scored the opening try when flanker Sam Underhill charged over after fullback Elliot Daly ran a loose kick back.
But with the grounding unclear to the television match official, the score was disallowed.
From the resulting five-metre scrum, however, Tuilagi bundled over for a 24th-minute try which the TMO did award. Farrell missed the conversion but England led 8-3.
England lock Maro Itoje then gave away a penalty to the obvious fury of Jones.
But Takalua missed, an error made worse for Tonga when Tuilagi scored his second try.
Daly released Jonny May before the wing’s inside pass to Tuilagi allowed the midfielder to charge in the 31st minute.
Farrell converted and England led 15-3.
England almost had another try before half-time but had to settle for a Farrell penalty that gave them a comfortable 15-point advantage at half-time.