England begins World Cup campaign with battling victory against Tonga

Updated 3:43 PM EDT, Sun September 22, 2019
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(CNN) —  

England began its 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign with a hard-fought 35-3 win over Tonga on Sunday.

The 2003 champions are among the favorites to lift this year’s trophy and started on the front foot as Tonga’s defense was made to work tirelessly to keep them out.

Despite its best efforts, the deadlock was broken shortly after 10 minutes with England’s Owen Farrell kicking a penalty, a simple one by his lofty standards.

However, Tonga proved it can compete with any team in the world on a physical level, after a crunching tackle on England’s Billy Vunipola heated up the affair. The almighty hit seemed to inspire the underdogs who equaled the score with a penalty of their own shortly after.

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Manu Tuilagi celebrates scoring his side
Manu Tuilagi celebrates scoring his side's second try at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
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Errors creeping in

The revival was short lived though, as England took control of the encounter when Manu Tuilagi powered over the line to score the game’s first try.

The 28-year-old was in inspired form on Sunday and registered his second score of the match to put England in complete control by half-time.

Farrell fired over another penalty shortly after the restart, before Jamie George and Luke-Cowan Dickie charged over the line to put the game to bed.

Despite the bonus-point victory, England began to lack quality as the game wore on with a number of handling errors perhaps giving head coach Eddie Jones pause for thought.

“We’d like to be sharper with the ball and that will come. I was really pleased with the effort of my players, they worked really hard,” said Jones after the match. “What a great effort by Tonga. They fought really hard.”

“We can be pleased about the end of the game when we were under the pump, we defended really well. That’s two tests now we haven’t conceded a try so we’re pretty happy with that.”

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Ireland give Scotland cause for concern

In Yokohama, Ireland was in frightening form as it emphatically brushed aside Scotland in its World Cup opener.

The Irish flew out of the blocks and powered to a 12-0 lead in just 15 minutes and continued to turn the screw against its hapless opponent who struggled to get a foothold in the game.

James Ryan, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong all ran over the line in the first half as Ireland won 27-3.

“When you don’t play your best in your first game of a World Cup, then you will obviously be disappointed. We didn’t show the best version of ourselves tonight,” said Scotland coach Gregor Townsend after the defeat.

“We must play much better in our next three games if we are going to get out of our pool and progress into the quarterfinals and I believe we will be.”

Meanwhile, Ireland captain Best said his teammates must continue improving if they want to go all the way in Japan.

“We started really well. We were positive, we wanted to attack. Obviously when the conditions [worsened] in the second half it became a bit more of an arm-wrestle,” he said.

“We’re under no illusions. That was a good start for us but we know, and the management will show us tomorrow, how much we need to improve going forward.”

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Italy get the job done

In Osaka, Italy cruised to a simple bonus-point victory over Namibia but only after a scare from the part-timers.

As torrential rain fell throughout the first half, the tournament’s lowest-ranked team took the lead through an early Damian Stevens try but the Azzurri took control as the sun made an appearance in the second period.

Italy’s Edoardo Padovani, Carlo Canna, Jake Polledri, Matteo Minozzi all got on the scoresheet as Namibia continued to put up a gallant effort.

“It was not a really good match. There were a lot of mistakes from both sides,” said Italy captain Sergio Parisse, who became just the third man to play in five Rugby World Cups.

“There was a lot of tension among the team. We have been preparing a long time for this game.

“The important thing was to win, to take the five points. Congratulations to Namibia as well because they never gave up, they played until the end, so congrats to both teams.”