Lewis Ludlam has urged booing fans to keep the faith after admitting that England could have shown more enterprise in their 34-12 World Cup victory over Japan.
Head coach Steve Borthwick declared it was job done as England took a stranglehold on Pool D through a bonus-point win, but after the 14-man rout of Argentina it felt like a backwards step had been taken on a messy evening at the Stade de Nice.
Early in the third quarter supporters groaned when Alex Mitchell – a live-wire scrum-half whose instinct is to run – booted the ball dead and the jeering grew in volume when the kicking continued.
England then ignited, defying the humidity-soaked conditions that made handling treacherous, to stage a thrilling all-out assault on Japan that was directed by George Ford and replacement full-back Marcus Smith.
The gameplan was to grind down unorthodox opponents and then take them apart when they were out on their feet. In that sense it worked, but for lengthy periods it was also a hard watch that clearly alienated some fans.
When asked for his message to supporters, Ludlam said: “I just say stick with us.
“We are a team that is learning every week and there are probably opportunities in there when we could have run that ball.
“However, it was hard to see how greasy that ball was. It was humid in that stadium and a couple of times we tried to play and ended up straight back on our tryline.
“George Ford is very good at putting us in the right areas and putting us in behind so that we have better opportunities to attack farther up the pitch. It’s hard to get the fans excited about that and we understand, but we’re building.
“That was probably not the performance we wanted – it was not a complete performance – but we are happy to get the win and the five points.
“We will take more opportunities and we want to be a better team next weekend and play in the right areas of the pitch.”
For the second successive weekend Ford was named man of the match as he single-mindedly executed England’s gameplan, but his stellar form presents Borthwick with a conundrum.
Owen Farrell returns from suspension against Chile on Saturday and while Ford will surely be rested for the showdown with Pool D’s weakest opponents, Borthwick must decide who to start at fly-half in a tricky appointment with Samoa a week later.
As England’s captain and talisman Farrell demands selection, but his return would alter a winning team that has been well led by the indomitable Courtney Lawes.
Borthwick’s likely solution is to reunite Ford and Farrell in a playmaking axis against Samoa on October 7 with the Saracens ringmaster reacclimatising to Test rugby at 10 in Lille on Saturday.
“Owen’s always chomping at the bit to get involved whether he’s banned or not. He’s always there and always leading the team forward,” Ludlam said.
“It is massive that we have got him back. He’s a massive leader for us. It’s just brilliant adding to that competition at 10 which is so fierce at the moment.
“Owen’s a proper competitor. He’s one of the most competitive blokes I have had the pleasure of playing with or against.
“You know he’s going to fight to the end and lead the team in the right way. He’s a massive character around the place and we are happy he’s back from his ban now.”