Rugby World Cup 2023: How England qualified for the quarter-finals

England coach Steve Borthwick instructs his players during training
England trained on Thursday before reaching the World Cup quarter-finals without having to step on the field of play
Venue: Stade Pierre Mauroy Date: Saturday, 7 October Kick-off: 16.45 BST
Coverage: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, plus text updates on the BBC Sport website and app

Going into the World Cup, things looked bleak for England.

A fourth-place finish at the Six Nations, a leaky defence, a spate of red cards and warm-up defeats by Wales, Ireland and Fiji ensured expectations were at rock bottom.

Yet just over three weeks later, Steve Borthwick’s side have secured their passage to the quarter-finals with a game to spare – and as pool winners.

Victories over Argentina, Japan and Chile put England in control of Pool D before their knockout place was secured without them even having to set foot on the field.

Japan’s win over Samoa meant England – some of whose players were spotted at Disneyland with their families during a few days off earlier this week – cannot be caught at the summit of their pool. This is how they made it.

Ford kicks England off despite Curry red

George Ford kicks a penalty for England against Argentina
George Ford kicked all 27 of England’s points in their win over Argentina

When you are a team scratching around for form, you often have to rely on individual brilliance to inspire the collective.

Step forward George Ford in England’s opening game against Argentina, their only tier-one opposition in the pool.

Fly-half Ford kicked three drop-goals to give his side a 12-3 half-time lead. England controlled the second half and Ford added 15 points from penalties as Borthwick’s side started with a morale-boosting 27-10 win.

It could have all gone horribly wrong after Tom Curry was controversially sent off via bunker review for a third-minute clash of heads, in what has proven the first of several divisive talking points inspired by the new system.

But it was an old-fashioned, hard-fought win which has encapsulated the no-nonsense way in which England have navigated their pool.

Bonus points secured as Brave Blossoms beaten

Courtney Lawes offloads the ball against Japan
Courtney Lawes captained England in their opening two World Cup matches, including the win over Japan

Any hopes that England might kick on with sparkling rugby having beaten their main pool challengers in the opening game, were dashed by the nature of their win over Japan in week two.

The score of 34-12 was comfortable, but it – and the bonus point for scoring four tries – was only secured with the last play of the game.

Lewis Ludlam scored the only try of a first half littered with England errors, before Rikiya Matsuda’s boot had Japan within a point at 13-12 early in the second.

A fortuitous try from captain Courtney Lawes, after the ball had bounced off the head of Joe Marler, gave breathing space and the lead was extended in the latter stages.

But England needed a spark from somewhere. Step forward Henry Arundell.

Five-star Arundell too hot for Chile

Henry Arundell scoring England's ninth try against Chile
Henry Arundell became the third England man to score five tries in a Rugby World Cup match

Against debutants Chile, it was never going to be about whether England would secure victory but how they would do it.

Thanks to Arundell in his first World Cup appearance, it was with style and ease. The 20-year-old scored five of England’s 11 tries, in the process putting himself top of the tournament scoring charts.

Also impressive was Marcus Smith at full-back, who scored the best try of the match by racing on to his own kick.

Owen Farrell returned to the team after a four-match ban and combined well with Smith and Ford, ensuring Borthwick has a welcome headache when it comes to fitting all the creative talent available into his starting XV.

The 71-0 win meant England would qualify for the last eight if Japan beat Samoa the following Thursday night – which the Asian nation did, 28-22.

What comes next?

England could now face Samoa in their final pool match on 7 October with a rotated side – which would follow the victory over Chile in which several first-teamers were rested, then a week off.

That would mean the team’s big hitters could have three weeks off before their quarter-final against the runner-up in Pool C – which looks likely to be Fiji.

Fiji defeated England 30-22 at Twickenham in their final World Cup warm-up and have beaten Australia at this tournament, so England must step up another level should they face the Pacific islanders.

Victory would set up a semi-final against the Pool A winners or the runners-up in Pool B – which as it stands would be France and South Africa respectively.

Whatever happens, it is about to get much tougher for England.

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