SAPPORO, Japan, Sept 22 (Reuters) - There was no record score, no long list of try scorers and certainly no reason to get carried away, but England’s victory over Tonga in their World Cup opener on Sunday ticked a lot of boxes for coach Eddie Jones.
With the Tongans still smarting from a 92-7 defeat to New Zealand just before the tournament and England keen to banish memories of their woeful campaign on home soil four years ago, some pundits were suggesting Jones’s side would pile on the points against the Pacific islanders.
But while they came away with a 35-3 victory it was not the clinical, fluent display that had been expected. A slew of handling errors and rash of penalties prevented England from building up a head of steam and at one point provoked an angry reaction from Jones in the coach’s booth.
However, after the bonus-point victory was entered in the record books, Jones seemed much more at ease with the performance.
“We came here to get five points, we got five points. We got no injuries. We know we can play better,” the Australian told a media conference.
“I’ve been to a few World Cups and it’s not a 100-metre sprint. 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.”
With Japan struggling to put Russia away in the World Cup curtain raiser, and both Fiji and Namibia giving a good account of themselves against Australia and Italy, Jones said it was clear that the big guns were not having it all their own way against the lower-tier teams.
“If you look at all the games, the (lower) tier team countries are playing above themselves. The first 20 minutes they are playing for their lives,” he added.
England scored two first-half tries through Manu Tuilagi at the Sapporo Dome but had to wait until late in the second half to secure their fourth try and the bonus point.
Jones said he had preached patience to his players in the build-up to the tournament and told them that if they stuck with the gameplan, even when the tide seemed to be turning against them, they would eventually get their reward.
“There was no sign of panic, they just kept playing good rugby and the try comes,” he added. “Might have been easier if it came a little bit earlier but it came, and that’s a sign of a good team.”
Reporting by Peter Rutherford; editing by Tony Lawrence