After all the pre-tournament angst, England are almost there.

Two games, two wins. A place in the knockout stages is in sight for Steve Borthwick’s side, but a dogged win over Japan wasn’t without its faults.   

On a muggy night in Nice, the game was littered with handling errors and England left it late to come alive; three of their four tries came in the final 25 minutes and Joe Marchant’s bonus point-sealing score arrived with the clock in the red.   

Japan may have beaten Scotland and Ireland on their way to a home quarter-final four years ago, but they have since slid to 14th in the rankings and were expected to be seen off without much fuss.

That goal was achieved in the end, but England’s attack, which has averaged fewer than two tries per match this year, needed almost an hour to get going.

Their first tries of the tournament were scored as Lewis Ludlam and Courtney Lawes crossed – the latter thanks to a bizarre headed assist from Joe Marler – before Freddie Steward dotted down from a well-executed George Ford cross-kick and Marchant dove over late on.  

Borthwick will also be happy to see his side avoid any cards after a run of three reds in four games, with Billy Vunipola returning from suspension in Nice and captain Owen Farrell now available again. 

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But fans will hope to see a more complete 80 minutes from their team in the remaining Pool D encounters against Chile and Samoa.

The early signs were ominous for Japan. A knock-on from behind their own try line handed England a good attacking platform, and a subsequent offside offered a chance for English points – which they took amid a smattering of boos from fans hoping to see more ambition than a shot at the posts.

Japan couldn’t be criticised for lacking in adventurous spirit and earned their equalising penalty after going half the length of the pitch on the counter, before Rikiya Matsuda kicked them into a deserved lead after a period of territorial dominance.

It lasted only a moment, as a Japanese five-metre line-out malfunction left them defending on their line, from where Ludlam barged over.

Ford converted for a four-point lead, but more English indiscipline saw that reduce to one as Matsuda’s ice-cool start from the tee continued.

The biggest roar of the half arrived when England won a penalty and opted to go to the corner instead of taking three, but it was soon followed by a groan as Jamie George knocked on.

When another penalty was won two minutes later in a similar position, there was no question that Ford would go for goal to give his side a four-point lead at the break.

The first points of the second half went the way of the Brave Blossoms, again from the right boot of Matsuda, but England soon stretched their lead in unorthodox fashion.  

A pass slipped through English hands and hit Marler in the head, bouncing forward for Lawes to gather the loose ball and dot down under the posts.

There was now more verve and vigour to England’s game, as they showed more willingness to go wide and have a run, but the slippery ball was a continuous nuisance for both sides.

English fans were delighted when Ford’s cross-kick landed in the grateful hands of Steward for a dot-down, but they were denied a bonus point by heroic Japanese defence as the clock ticked down.

At the death, the Brave Blossoms were unable to repel the waves of blue shirts for a second time, and Marchant sprinted through to finish the job.