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.”

Lewis Ludlam’s understated influence has won the approval of Steve Borthwick after England’s unsung hero was picked ahead of Billy Vunipola at number eight for Sunday’s World Cup clash with Japan.

Vunipola has completed his two-match suspension for a dangerous tackle against Ireland last month but the hard-carrying Saracen is limited to a bench role for the Stade de Nice showdown.

Instead, Ludlam has been rewarded for his defensive masterclass as a replacement in the 27-10 win over Argentina on Saturday by filling the hole in the back row created by Tom Curry’s suspension, also for an illegal challenge.

Ben Earl switches from number eight to openside to accommodate the return of Ludlam, who played every minute of this year’s Six Nations and has been one of England’s most consistent performers of recent times.

The versatile Northampton skipper’s elevation above the less mobile Vunipola is a nod to Japan’s high tempo tactics, which assistant coach Kevin Sinfield has compared to Barcelona’s tiki-taka style of football.

Borthwick believes the quality of Ludlam’s performances deserve greater recognition.

“We’ve been really impressed by Lewis in training and I’ve been really impressed with his impact from the bench,” England’s head coach said.

“With the nature of this game and the challenge Japan pose, I thought Lewis was the right person to start. He carries, he runs hard and covers a lot of ground in defence, which I don’t think people often see.

“What he does often goes under the radar. He’s that type of player and we value that here. Lewis is a great energy giver. He is a great driver of this squad and very generous in helping other team-mates improve. You always need those type of players in your team.

“He has been a key leader of his club side for many seasons and I have seen that growth in him as a leader.”

Two further changes in personnel have been made in the front row where Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler displace Dan Cole and Ellis Genge as starting props.

Sinckler has recovered from the pectoral injury that limited his game time during the warm-up Tests and prevented him from facing the Pumas in the Pool D opener in Marseille.

The 30-year-old tighthead will be making his first World Cup appearance since being knocked out in the final against South Africa four years ago.

“It’s great to see Kyle Sinckler back in the team. He probably could have played against Argentina but he’s now absolutely 100 per cent this week,” Borthwick said.

“I saw a great advancement in the consistency of his game in the Six Nations. What I see of him now is physically a guy who is in great shape.

“He’s exceptionally strong and he’s moving really well. I sense the hunger in him and a desire in him to want to do exceptionally well for England in this World Cup.”

Borthwick has retained the same backline that featured against Argentina with George Ford given another opportunity to argue his case for being viewed as first choice fly-half.

Owen Farrell completes his four-match ban – once again for a dangerous tackle – versus Japan and becomes available for the last two group matches against Chile and Samoa, forcing Borthwick to make a difficult call at 10.

England will march on to a place in the quarter-finals if they topple Japan, who are not the dynamic force that captured hearts and minds at the last World Cup when they reached the knockout phase for the first time.

Having risen to tier-one status, they have now slipped to 14th in the global rankings but at least opened the tournament with a thumping 42-12 victory over Chile.

Lewis Ludlam admits it is “hard to not think about it” as the selection waiting game for England’s World Cup hopefuls nears its conclusion.

England head coach Steve Borthwick will name his 33-strong World Cup squad on Monday morning.

It follows an opening tournament warm-up performance against Wales that badly misfired, with some World Cup prospects undoubtedly falling by the wayside as Warren Gatland’s team triumphed 20-9 in Cardiff.

Northampton captain Ludlam’s performance was among the few highlights, delivering a trademark display that bristled with intent and purpose, while an ability to cover all three back-row positions makes him a priceless asset for Borthwick.

“I tried my hardest and that is all you can ask for,” said Ludlam, who made England’s final World Cup cut for Japan four years ago.

“It has been brilliant, the amount of competition we’ve had in the back-row over the past six weeks.

“We have learnt a lot from each other and there has been some healthy competition as well.

“It’s a tough decision to make. Like I say, the competition is so good and that has been a real positive this campaign.

“It has really pushed us all on and you can’t be too comfortable in this environment with so many good back-rowers coming through.

“It (World Cup selection) might be at the back of a lot of people’s minds, it is hard to not think about it.”

The squad will be unveiled with three World Cup warm-up Tests left as England host Wales next week, then travel to Ireland before entertaining Fiji.

Borthwick’s decision to go early at least guarantees an end to selection speculation that would have accompanied his players throughout the August schedule.

“I guess knowing early is good with the security and then you know what you are doing,” Ludlam added.

“But then again, on the other hand, pressure is a good thing and brings the best out of some people as well. So I expect it will be different for different people.

“Pulling on the jersey any time, whatever the occasion, is special. Not many people have the honour of playing for their country.

“The World Cup is just that extra bit special. It would be a dream for a lot of lads. Those who do go will be looking forward to it and relishing that challenge.”

Flanker Lewis Ludlam says England’s players are self-policing the consumption of sweet treats in a bid to be in peak condition for a shot at World Cup glory.

Steve Borthwick’s preliminary squad are in the midst of preparations for the tournament in France, which kicks off in just seven weeks’ time.

Players were last week put through their paces in the heat of Italy before returning to home soil to continue building towards next month’s four warm-up fixtures.

Northampton captain Ludlam revealed diet rules and weight monitoring have been relaxed slightly since head coach Borthwick replaced Eddie Jones.

Yet, after exclaiming he had not “seen cake in weeks” after spotting a buffet at the team’s Surrey training base, the 27-year-old insists players are not allowing each other to give in to temptation.

“The regime has changed in that it’s not as much forced upon you – you’ve got the trust to do everything the right way so we are in the best position to go and put ourselves in the best spot this World Cup,” he said.

“There’s a general feeling amongst the squad that we’ve got to be on the money and making sure we’re making decisions so we are better rugby players the next week and the next month.

“It is a good group of lads and we keep each other in check.

“There might be a birthday cake here and there but I think the lads are pretty understanding of what’s ahead of us.

“In the grand scheme of things, it is a short time in our career when we can be really on it to give ourselves the chance of creating some really special memories.”

England take on Wales home and away in early August and then face Six Nations champions Ireland in Dublin and Fiji at Twickenham before heading to France to begin their Pool D campaign against Argentina on September 9 in Marseille.

Borthwick’s appointment last December led to Saints star Ludlam being surrounded at Test level by a management team previously in charge of his club’s fierce rivals Leicester.

The 19-cap back-row forward initially found it strange setting aside hostilities and having old enemies as allies.

But he believes the England setup – led by former Tigers coaches Borthwick, Richard Wigglesworth, Aled Walters, Kevin Sinfield and Tom Harrison – is beginning to feel like a club environment.

“It was weird to get over in the beginning, especially Tom, who obviously loves Leicester and having been up against him a few times,” said Ludlam.

“Now, because we’ve been in camp for a long period of time – we don’t normally get this long period without games – it’s starting to feel like a club coming together rather than an international team where you’re only in for six weeks or whatever.

“It’s starting to come together really nicely into one unit.”

England’s final 33-man World Cup selection is due to be announced on August 7.

Injured quintet Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Ollie Lawrence, Ollie Chessum and Jack Walker, who were not included in Borthwick’s initial 41-strong training squad, are continuing their rehabilitation.

“They’re good, they’re on their programmes and working extremely hard to get themselves ready,” said scrum coach Harrison.

“Everyone’s got different timescales but they’re doing their best to be available.”

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