2015 RWC: England 35-11 Fiji

2015 RWC: England 35-11 Fiji

England 35-11 Fiji: England secure a bonus-point win in the opening match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup against Fiji at Twickenham.

England 35-11 Fiji

A strong start and finish helped England make a winning if not totally convincing start at their home World Cup as they beat Fiji 35-11 at Twickenham.

After years of preparation and weeks of growing anticipation and excitement, the 2015 Rugby World Cup finally got under way on Friday as hosts England began their bid for glory against the less-fancied but highly dangerous Fiji, and they can be pleased that they came out the other end with a victory and a try bonus-point, even if the performance wasn’t quite as encouraging as the scoreline suggested.

England started well, with a third-minute penalty from fly-half George Ford putting the hosts 3-0 to the good, before a brilliant rolling maul resulted in a penalty-try being awarded to England, with the conversion taking the score to 10-0 after ten minutes.

The good work continued thereafter. Winger Anthony Watson was tackled into touch when charging for the corner, but a botched Fijian throw from the resulting line-out saw England win back possession, and sharp passing in the backs allowed fullback Mike Brown to slice through the defence to score in the opposite corner, giving England a 15-0 lead after little more than twenty minutes.

So far so good for England, but Fiji have a talented back-line, and a fine step and run from scrum-half Nikola Matawalu saw him power over into the corner. The try was initially given, but controversy followed as replays on the big-screen showed Matawalu had knocked-on in the act of scoring. The try was subsequently rescinded, even though the referee had already appeared to make his decision before viewing the replays.

Matawalu clearly knocked-on, causing the ref to back-track on his decision
Matawalu clearly knocked-on, causing the ref to back-track on his decision

Fiji quickly made up for that near miss though, as they won the ball on England’s scrum before a cross-field kick saw giant winger Nemani Nadolo catch and score to definitively get the Pacific Islanders on the scoreboard on the half-hour mark. The conversion was missed, before an exchange of penalties from both sides brought the score to 18-8 in England’s favour at half-time.

If England’s first forty minutes had been satisfactory, the next thirty minutes would prove to be incredibly frustrating, not to mention a little tense. The scrum, which wasn’t great in the first-half, only seemed to get worse in the second, and the number of turnovers they were conceding to Fiji at the breakdown was also worrying, not least because England could hardly get any rhythm going as the Fijians noticeably grew in confidence.

There were not many try-scoring opportunities either way, but England could not shake off their opponents. A penalty on the hour mark for Fiji was missed by Nadolo, but fly-half Ben Volavola made amends a few minutes later to narrow the gap to 18-11, and raise the tensions in Twickenham and further afield as fans worried if a major upset could just be on the cards.

Substitute fly-half Owen Farrell calmed a few nerves shortly afterwards as his penalty took England’s lead back up to ten points, and the final ten minutes saw the host finally get some meaningful possession and territory as Fiji began to tire. A fine phase of play with plenty of off-loading eventually released Mike Brown into space, from which the fullback was able to power over for his second try of the match, and effectively confirm the victory.

Brown's second try capped off a man-of-the-match performance
Brown’s second try capped off a man-of-the-match performance

The conversion made the scores 28-11, but England were still after a fourth try, which would give them a potentially vital bonus-point in what looks to be ‘the pool of death’, and with the final play of the match they eventually got it. Another substitute in the form of Billy Vunipola managed to burrow over from close range after several phases. There was a nervous wait as the officials checked the replays for confirmation, but the try was eventually awarded, giving England the result they were looking for.

There will be plenty for England to work on after this match, as it was only in the final ten minutes that they really took the game away from Fiji, and issues surrounding the scrums and turnovers will not have gone unnoticed by Wales and Australia, two other rugby giants in Pool A that England will face in their next two matches.

Despite the various errors though, England got the bonus-point win they desired, and they have a week of training to iron out those mistakes before they play Wales in what promises to be a titanic clash at Twickenham next Saturday.

Wales get their tournament underway on Sunday when they play minnows Uruguay in Cardiff, while Fiji are back in action against Australia on Wednesday, also in Cardiff.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup has finally begun, and if the opening match was anything to go by, it looks like its going to be a competitive one.

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