England must sharpen up to avoid Rugby World Cup embarrassment after slow start in Japan

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If England go on to lift the World Cup in six weeks’ time, this opening performance will be long forgotten.

Which is just as well – because it was eminently forgettable.

Manu Tuilagi’s first-half double delivered victory and Luke Cowan-Dickie’s late effort secured the tryscoring bonus point, but of all the contenders for the Webb Ellis Cup, England looked the most glitch-ridden on the first weekend.

World Cups are marathons but there will need to be a sharp upturn when Pool C gets serious or England risk crashing out before the knockout stages for the second tournament running.

The reality is that if they are so clunky and wasteful against either France or Argentina they will be in serious danger of defeat.

By the end the crowd inside the Sapporo Dome were chanting, ‘Tonga, Tonga’, with the healthy travelling English contingent near-silent.

That said all that was needed about how well a team who leaked 90 points to New Zealand earlier this month had fronted up.

If one moment exemplified the discomfort caused by a side representing an island with a population of 100,000, it was the wincing hit on Billy Vunipola by Zane Kapeli – a part-time builder – that sent the No8 into reverse.

Through the fog of delusional utterances from the England camp afterwards, Vunipola was at least honest enough to own up to the side’s shortcomings.

He said: “We gave ourselves opportunities – there are definitely two that I can think of – but we have to find our hands and hopefully next week we can be better.”

On a difficult night, Tuilagi showed his priceless value to England with the productive furrow he ploughed in midfield, after being revved up by the Sipi Tau – the Tongan Haka – before kick-off.

“It’s where I’m from,” said Tuilagi. “It’s a privilege to stand in front of the Tongan war dance. It was brilliant. It definitely fired me up watching that. I hope there will be more to come.”

Pacific Island power overcame Pacific Island resistance, as England’s Samoan East Midlander crossed for two tries in the space of seven minutes.

First, Tuilagi shrugged off Leicester team-mate Sione Kalamafoni and drove his way to the line to score. Then, as England’s attack finally got outside Tonga, he was there in support to take Jonny May’s inside pass and go over.

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