Steve Borthwick defends England’s style of play after ‘repulsive rugby’ accusation

England's Jamie George drives forward as he is tackled by Japan's Keita Inagaki
Jamie George grinds through a tackle by Keita Inagaki - AP/Pavel Golovkin

Steve Borthwick defended his side’s style of play after England’s performance drew criticism despite finishing strongly to secure a win over Japan on a disjointed night in Nice.

Japan proved awkward opponents and England held a narrow, 13-12 lead on the verge of the final quarter until a bizarre try spurred Borthwick’s charges. George Ford’s pass bounced off the head of Joe Marler and allowed Courtney Lawes to dot down as players paused, expecting referee Nika Amashukeli to call for a knock-on.

Later, after England had pulled away to win with four tries, securing a bonus point on the final play through Joe Marchant, Marler joked that his header had been intentional. “You won’t believe this but me, [Dan] Cole and [Jamie] George, back at the hotel, part of our warm-up was practising headers and it came to fruition tonight,” said the loosehead prop in an interview with ITV.

Not all observers were enamoured with England’s performance in a match punctuated by 79 kicks, 42 from England and 37 from Japan. Olivier Magne, the former France flanker, launched into a tirade on X, formerly Twitter. “This English team is ugly - no desire, no joy, no consistency,” he posted. “It’s a repulsive rugby.” The criticism was not contained to past opponents, either. Jeremy Guscott’s half-time verdict was “pretty boring”.

Lewis Ludlam barged over for England’s first try with Ford, who kicked 14 points from the tee, setting up Freddie Steward with a left-footed chip.

“I think ultimately, players find a way and that’s the important thing,” said Borthwick. “In these conditions, it was challenging. Japan kicked the ball 37 times today. I’m not sure when you’ve seen a Japan team kick 37 times.

“We knew the fourth quarter was going to be the important one,” added the England head coach. “We felt this game could be tight and we felt the fourth quarter was where we could accelerate.”