Awful England booed by own fans during Rugby World Cup win over Japan

Talk about comedy of errors – it says everything about the creativity of this England side that the try which got them off the hook against Japan last night came from a Joe Marler header. It was the first time England had used their heads in attack all evening.

Booed by their own fans at the Stade de Nice for their obsessive kicking – bad kicking at that – they flirted with defeat against a side who they beat 60-7 the last time they played them at a World Cup.

They were awful – and lucky to get out of town with a win. For Marler though it capped a breakthrough night with the first assists of his England career.

The try drought may now extend to 84 Tests but Marler was the unlikely provider for both Lewis Ludlam and Courtney Lawes. London buses and all that.

The Ludlam effort was more conventional than the nut on for Lawes – just a little pop into the hands of the thundering Lewis Ludlam for his first half touchdown – but beggars can’t be choosers.

Marler is not paid to be creative. At 120kg, his job is to drive scrums, hit rucks and whack opponents. His tournament mugshot is an arched-eyebrow supervillain pose – which lacks only a cat being stroked in his arms – is like that for a reason. But thank goodness he took time out from the day job to indulge in some moonlighting.

If he hadn’t – and Ludlam had not muscled his way over for that try – England would have trailed at half time last night to the Brave Blossoms. And without his critical turnover penalty in the ninth minute, Japan could have been in for a try of their own.

If there was one man who could hold his head up high in his 59 minutes on the pitch it was Marler. Jokin’ Joe, the class clown of this England squad, is a complex character. He has, in the past, admitted to hating his time away from his family with England. Playing rugby for England is not the be-all and end-all for Marler. Far from it.

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But when he is a happy camper he is a ball of fun and a huge asset to the squad on what England hope will end up being a seven-week stay in France.

He is a human barometer of where the squad is at. A good tourist is no use though if he doesn’t contribute on the field when he is called to.

When you are behind one of the squad leaders in Ellis Genge, you know starts will be thin on the ground so you have to make the most of them. And amid a sea of mediocrity, in the strangest way imaginable, he did.

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