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09 Sep 2007 08:47
Champions England produced a sluggish, uninspired and deeply flawed performance on Sunday to beat the United States 28-10 in their opening World Cup Pool A match.
England failed to even gain the bonus point awarded for four tries, falling one short after leading 21-3 at halftime. They will need to find a huge improvement in all areas before their key group match against South Africa on Friday.
The winners of that Paris clash could find themselves facing Wales and Argentina in the knockout stages while the losers will probably have to get past Australia and New Zealand to reach the final.
On Saturday’s evidence England can start preparing for the least enticing of those two options and even that assumes they will get past Samoa, a task by no means guaranteed on this display.
There was one bright spot in the lively display of Olly Barkley, who scored a try and kicked well as stand-in for injured flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson, but it will be precious little consolation for coach Brian Ashton.
England struggled to settle into any sort of rhythm and after 20 shapeless minutes the teams were level at 3-3.
It could have been worse for the champions as captain Phil Vickery got away with a trip on Paul Emerick after Mike Hercus grabbed an interception and set up a dangerous counter-attack.
The infringement was missed by referee Jonathan Kaplan but US coach Peter Thorburn was furious and Vickery could yet face a citing for the incident.
Only when the Americans were down to 14, with Vahafolau Esikia in the sin bin, did England manage their first try in the 35th minute.
Josh Lewsey, who led the teams out on his 50th appearance, broke well and Mike Catt subsequently hoisted a kick into the arms of the unmarked Jason Robinson.
Barkley added the second just before the break and converted for a 21-3 lead that flattered England and was harsh on the Americans, who had competed with disciplined aggression.
Flanker Tom Rees charged powerfully through three defenders to score England’s third try eight minutes after the re-start but it failed to ignite his side.
Struggling to come on to the ball with any pace and lacking real menace at the breakdown, England completely lost their way in the final quarter and rarely threatened a fourth try.
Instead it was the semi-professional Americans who struck eight minutes from time.
Lawrence Dallaglio was yellow carded and while England regrouped in confusion they were unable to prevent replacement Matekitonga Moeakiola charging over for a memorable try.
Hercus converted and the game ended on a sour note with a yellow card for Emerick for a spear tackle on Barkley.
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