IT was Napoleon who said he wanted lucky generals, not good ones.
And Steve Borthwick might have backed himself for a flutter in one of the south of France’s many casinos after England escaped a night to forget.
Freddie Steward celebrates scoring England’s third tryPA
ITVJoe Marler unwittingly turned the game with this headed assist[/caption]
PACourtney Lawes seized on the ‘head start’ given him by Joe Marler to score[/caption]
AFPSteward makes the game safe as the Red Rose overcame early scares[/caption]
For 56 desperate minutes, England were on the verge of the inconceivable.
Mistake after butter-fingered mistake, the basic flaws that were all too evident during the summer warm-ups, a staggering lack of imagination, or ingenuity behind the scrum.
Japan were starting to believe, the England fans beginning to fear, when a fluke moment nobody could anticipate changed it all.
Stand-in skipper Courtney Lawes was the only man to react as the ball popped up in the air, with seemingly the entire stadium believing Joe Marler had knocked on.
But the TMO saw that it had cannoned off Marler’s HEAD, not his hands, so the ball was live before Lawes picked up to stroll over.
It was a freak, exactly what Borthwick’s men needed, after a hairum-scarum performance only lifted by Lewis Ludlam’s first half touchdown.
Freddie Steward put the game beyond the Brave Blossoms as he collected George Ford’s superb kick to finally create clear blue water with Joe Marchant nicking a bonus point in the final attack of the game.
Yet where last week’s win over Argentina had looked like the first step forwards, this error-strewn hodge-podge of a performance was a stumble back in the other direction.
Yes, the humidity on the Cote d’Azur meant the ball was as greasy as a squealing pig.
But this was the sort of display that sucks the life out of your soul,
England at least avoided a repeat of the living nightmare experienced by Roy Hodgson and his side here against Iceland in Euro 2016.
Suddenly, though, that talk of them as potential World Cup winners looks wildly premature – especially as Japan suffered from the same hari-kari impulses.
Inside the first minute, England were gifted three points.
Full-back Semisi Masirewa spilled Elliot Daly’s over-hit kick behind his own try line and while Steward lost the ball as he ploughed towards the line, Ford gratefully kicked the offside penalty.
Yet Borthwick’s side were horribly nervy and mistake-ridden.
Daly lost the ball in contact and then after a 20 metre driving maul, Alex Mitchell made a dog’s breakfast of the pass.
GettyLawes makes it look easy in the end but the try came after a bizarre assist[/caption]
GettyJoe Marler had a surprise role in England’s match-turning second try[/caption]
ReutersEngland congratulate Ludlam for his early score[/caption]
AFPNo8 Lewis Ludlam touches down for England’s first try of the tournament[/caption]
The price was paid, Japan advancing deep into England territory before Ben Earl infringed and Rikiyi Matsuda kicked his side on terms.
Japan had bounce and swagger, England were uncomfortable, the French fans in the crowd unsurprisingly siding with the underdogs.
Matsuda charged down Ford’s clearing kick although England were relieved when the fly half scrambled back to secure the ball just yards from his own line.
But Japan kept on coming. Lomani Lemeki knocked on after a Steward fumble but Matsuda kicked three more.
Had the Japanese stayed in front for a while, it might have been really nasty.
Instead, they handed England their first try of the tournament when hooker Shota Horie missed his three-man line-out.
Ollie Chessum was stopped short but Ludlam barrelled his way through three defenders to plonk the ball down, Ford adding the extras, his 11th straight successful kick of the tournament.
But Jonny May utterly needlessly blocked off Lemeki, long after the ball had gone, allowing Matsuda to reduce the deficit to a single point.
GettyLomano Lemeki thought he’d crossed for a try as Mitchell challenges[/caption]
England’s litany of howlers was mounting, Marchant the next to drop carelessly.
And when Earl threw the ball into Jamie Goerge’s face from a great line-out opportunity, it summed up an awful 40 minutes, although it ended with Ford extending the lead to four points.
The second half started similarly, England doing their best to engineer good field positions, only to squander up the ball with shoddy executions.
Borthwick would have been tearing his hair out – if he had any left.
The England fans, so buoyed by last week’s effort, were back in that familiar spiral of despair and doubt, boos for Mitchell as he kicked rather than spin the ball wide.
Chessum, under pressure deep in England territory, gave Matsuda the chance to cut the lead to one again.
But then came that moment of utter fortune, with Lawes, who like everyone else in the stadium, assumed Marler had knocked on, not even intending to touch down until Ford urged him to do so and leave it to the officials.
The TMO verdict came, England had the try they did not deserve, with Ford popping over the conversion.
When the Sale No 10 used his left peg to drop the ball into Steward’s grateful arms in behind the Japanese right flank, England were safe.
And they added insult to Japanese injury when Marchant forced his way over the line for the fifth point on the final play.
PARikiya Matsuda kicks a penalty for Japan at the Stade De Nice in France[/caption]
AFPRed Rose scrum-half Alex Mitchell clears the ball[/caption]