England came from behind to beat Japan 35-15 at Twickenham on Saturday as they avoided a shock defeat by the 2019 World Cup hosts.
Japan led 15-10 at half-time and were threatening an upset to rival their stunning 34-32 win over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup, when they were coached by current England boss Eddie Jones.
But England scored 25 unanswered points after the break, with late tries from Test debutant Joe Cokanasiga and Dylan Hartley sealing victory.
England scrum-half Danny Care scored the first try of the match in the third minute but Japan’s passing and handling was far sharper in the opening stages of a dry day well-suited to their running game. Japan’s enterprising play was rewarded with tries by centre Ryoko Nakamura and captain Michael Leitch.
Meanwhile England again paid the price for indiscipline, with hooker Jamie George, starting in place of regular co-captain Hartley, sin-binned.
But England recovered to lead thanks to openside flanker Mark Wilson’s first Test try and the boot of George Ford, their captain for this match, before powering away.
“We wanted Japan to be at their best so we’re so pleased with that game; it’s the sort of game we needed,” Jones told Sky Sports.
“They had a few things go their way and got back into the game and it became an arm wrestle for a while.”
England lock Maro Itoje admitted Jones had some strong words for the team at half-time.
“Eddie spoke at half-time with Dylan as well as Ford, they spoke to the team to try and get us back on track,” he said.
“We just needed to up it, they were beating us round the corner and winning the one-on-ones. Japan are a good team but we should be beating them.”
Jones made 11 changes to the side that suffered an agonising 16-15 loss at home to world champions New Zealand last weekend, with Fiji-born wing Cokanasiga – who arrived in England aged just three – included.
Fly-half Ford, winning his 50th cap, led the team after being benched for a 12-11 win over South Africa and the All Blacks loss.
Cokanasiga was quickly into the action as England went ahead, being released by full-back Elliot Daly. He in turn found George on his inside, who delivered a scoring pass to Care.
Japan got on the scoreboard thanks to fly-half Yu Tamura’s long-range effort in the 16th minute.
Japan led 10-7 before England won a scrum penalty on the halfway line that saw long-range kick specialist Daly’s superb 50-metre strike level the scores.
But Japan hit back after they caught England napping with a quick line-out. The ball was worked back and across the field before finding Leitch on the right.
The dynamic flanker powered through tackles by replacement hooker Dylan Hartley and Care before side-stepping Daly for the try. Ford’s penalty early in the second half cut Japan’s lead to two points and England went ahead on the hour mark. Powerful running by replacement prop Kyle Sinckler and Itoje paved the way for Ford to find Wilson with a clever inside pass for a converted try.
England put the result beyond doubt when reserve scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth released Cokanasiga who charged over before Hartley finished off a driving maul.
England complete their 2018 programme at home to Australia on November 24 when Japan play Russia in Gloucester in a dress rehearsal for the World Cup’s opening game.
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)