Rugby World Cup 2007
England struggle against inspired Eagles
September 8, 2007
Man of the Match Olly Barkley kicks for goald against the USA
© Getty Images
England launched their World Cup defence with an expected victory over the USA - but captain Phil Vickery could miss next Friday's showdown with South Africa. Although they never really looked in danger of losing the match, the final 28-10 scoreline flattered the English, who were never able to take control of a game they were widely tipped to dominate.
Vickery faces an anxious wait to discover whether or not he will be cited for a blatant first-half trip on Eagles centre Paul Emerick. The incident went unnoticed and unpunished by referee Jonathan Kaplan, but video replays at Stade Felix-Bollaert suggested Vickery's action was premeditated.
The match citing commissioner has 48 hours to lodge a complaint against the Wasps prop, who could then face a disciplinary hearing. The last thing England need is their captain in hot water. Fly-half Jonny Wilkinson is battling to be fit for the Pool A Springboks encounter, which should decide who tops the group.
A fitness update on Wilkinson, who suffered a sprained ankle ligament during training earlier this week, is expected on Tuesday. The Springboks, meanwhile, have little to fear on the strength of an error-strewn England display against brave - but strictly limited - opponents.
The English team, led out by Josh Lewsey, who was making his 50th Test appearance, were plagued by handling errors throughout and despite spending long periods of the match camped deep in the USA half were unable to convert field position into points.
After Olly Barkley and Mike Hercus traded penalties it was the Eagles who could have taken the early lead when in the 13th minute skipper Hercus, nabbed an intercept and streaked down the left touchline before off-loading to Paul Emerick, who was then tripped by a retreating Vickery.
The yellow carding of inside centre Vahafolau Esikia proved very costly for the Americans. England took full advantage, with tries to Jason Robinson and Barkley, who converted his own touchdown and kicked a penalty to help his side to 15 points during Esikia's 10 minute absence.
England went to the break 21-3 ahead and flanker Tom Rees extended their lead with a converted try nine minutes after the resumption but that was to be the end of their scoring.
Man of the match Barkley, a solid replacement for Wilkinson, helped himself to a total of 18 points through a try, two conversions and three penalties. The biggest cheer of the match accompanied Matekitonga Moeakiola's late try with the Eagles' prop crashing over inside the last five minutes.
The enormous 118kg replacement prop, who made several jarring tackles after coming on, carried three English players over the line with him to score a well deserved consolation try for the Eagles. But given the way super-charged World Cup favourites New Zealand cut Italy to shreds in Marseille just hours earlier, England look light years away from being able to mount a successful title defence.
Much of their play was scrappy and without any real direction, and better teams than the United States would have made them pay had they been more clinical. It was only England's 17th win in the last 41 Tests since being crowned world champions, although head coach Brian Ashton will undoubtedly see it as a worthwhile exercise in terms of dusting off cobwebs.
But England failed to collect a bonus point, and they finished a poor game reduced to 14 men when number eight Lawrence Dallaglio was sin-binned. Eagles captain Mike Hercus booted a penalty and converted substitute prop Matekitonga Moeakiloa's second-half try, yet England should have won far more convincingly.
They should still reach the quarter-finals, which is where the journey could end, given how their deficiencies should be ruthlessly exposed by better teams than the United States.
England (21) 28
USA (3) 10
England: Cueto; Lewsey, Noon, Catt, Robinson; Barkley, Perry; Sheridan, Regan, Vickery, Shaw, Kay, Worsley, Rees, Dallaglio.
Replacements: Chuter, Stevens, Corry, Moody, Richards, Farrell, Tait.
USA: Wyles; Sika, Emerick, Esikia, Ngwenya; Hercus (capt), Erskine; MacDonald, Lentz, Osentowski, Parker, Mangan, Stanfill, Clever, Bloomfield.
Replacements: Burdette, Moeakiloa, tbc, Basauri, Petri, Malifa, Tuipulotu.