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Lacklustre England battle to bonus-point victory over Fiji in World Cup opener

The hosts did enough to begin their campaign with a win at Twickenham.

Billy Vunipola and Joe Launchbury celebrate after the game.
Billy Vunipola and Joe Launchbury celebrate after the game.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

England 35

Fiji 11

MIKE BROWN SCORED two tries as England claimed a nervy 35-11 win over Fiji in the World Cup opening match at Twickenham on Friday.

Billy Vunipola scored a last gasp try that gave the victory respectability and maximum bonus points in Pool A — the World Cup’s so-called Pool of Death.

Jonny May said it was “we could have won a bit better, but it is a potential banana skin out of the way.”

Also drawn against Australia and Wales, the tournament hosts would have wanted to launch their World Cup campaign in style.

But for much of the match they were imprecise against a powerful Fiji side.

However, Brown’s running ensured England made the winning start they wanted above anything else in front of the packed 82,000 crowd who wanted nothing less than victory.

After a spectacular opening ceremony featuring Prince Harry and some rugby legends, England soon found themselves 15-0 ahead.

England, playing in their change kit of red after Fiji won the toss to wear white, went ahead early on when fly-half George Ford kicked a 40-metre penalty following a collapsed scrum.

When Fiji were penalised for lifting England wing Jonny May, Ford kicked for a line-out inside the Pacific Nations Cup champions’ 22 metre line.

Tom Wood and Tevita Cavubati A capacity crowd were packed inside Twickenham. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They won the ball and from a rolling maul, South African referee Jaco Peyper awarded a penalty try and also sin-binned Fiji scrum-half Nikola Matawalu.

Ford converted, with Fiji a man down in the 14th minute.

If there was no scorer for England’s first try, there was no doubt about the identity of the man who grabbed their second when Brown capped a well-worked move seven minutes later.

Blindside flanker Tom Wood stole a Fiji line-out near the islanders’ line and England, making light of tricky conditions for handling rugby, worked the ball from right to left, with lock Geoff Parling, centres Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joesph shifting the ball quickly to create space for Brown, who stepped inside his man to place the ball.

Fiji nearly hit back with a spectacular try of their own. Matawalu, back on the field after his 10-minute suspension, broke off the back of a wheeled scrum from 30 metres out and sprinted down the right touchline after great work at the set-piece by prop Campese Ma’afu.

It looked as if Matawalu had scored one of the great World Cup tries but the score was cancelled when replays revealed that, under pressure from Brown, he had lost possession trying to ground the ball.

But Fiji, putting pressure on England’s scrum, did have a try a minute later on the half-hour mark when giant wing Nemani Nadolo leapt high over opposing England flyer Anthony Watson to grab Ben Volovola’s hanging kick.

Nadolo, Fiji’s goal-kicker, might have wished he had taken a conversion missed by Volovola especially as a Ford penalty soon made it 18-5 to England.

But Nadolo showed Volovola how it should be down by stroking over a 40 metre penalty to cut England’s lead to 18-8 under the Twickenham floodlights.

However, a ruck infringement gave Ford a penalty chance but his 52m effort just fell short and England led by 10 points at the break.

Nadolo missed two second-half penalties but England, far less physically imposing Fiji, simply couldn’t get their game going

Nemani Nadolo scores his side's first try despite Anthony Watson Fiji gave as good as they got and were rewarded with an excellent try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

After 51 minutes, England freshened their pack and also brought on Richard Wigglesworth for scrum-half Ben Youngs in a bid to test Fiji’s fitness.

Volavola made no mistake from 30 metres out in front and England’s lead was reduced to 18-11, setting up a potentially nervous final 15 minutes for the home side.

But Fijian indiscipline gave replacement fly-half Owen Farrell a simple penalty and England led by 21-11 to go two scores in front before Brown, after good work by Farrell and May, made the game safe.

Vunipola came on and completed a last minute try — with Farrell convering — to make the score look more than impressive.

“Everything was going to plan but then there was some loose play,” said May explaining the jitters.

But he said England showed “good character” to get back into play and throttle the Fiji challenge.

England scorers:
Tries: Penalty try, Mike Brown, Billy Vunipola
Conversations: Owen Farrell (2), George Ford 
Penalties: George Ford (2), Owen Farrell
Fiji scorers:
Tries: Nemani Nadolo
Conversations:
Penalties: Nemani Nadolo, Ben Volavola

England: Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Brad Barritt, Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood, Geoff Parling, Courtney Lawes, Dan Cole, Tom Youngs, Joe Marler.

Fiji: Metuisela Talebula, Waisea Nayacalevu, Vereniki Goneva, Gabrieli Lovobalavu, Nemani Nadolo, Ben Volavola, Nikola Matawalu, Campese Ma’afu, Sunia Koto Vuli, Manasa Saulo, Api Ratuniyarawa, Leone Nakarawa, Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Akapusi Qera, Sakiusa Masi Matadigo.

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