Very few punters expected England to make it this far. Alas, the Soap Dodgers not only topped Pool D, they did so with relative ease, building nicely into their run for the World Cup final. However, standing in their way is a frightening Fijian side which took them apart less than two months ago. Fiji deservedly won through to the quarters with a strong performance over Australia, though in dropping their last match against Portugal you wonder what they may have left in the tank.
Can Fiji pull out another giant-killing performance for the ages? Or will a
boring structured England grind them down this time?
The breakdown tone was set early, both sides having a licence to jackal and winning penalties. Erstwhile midfielder Owen Farrell kicked the opening penalty in the 11th min, before England was able to find Manu Tuilagi for the first try of the match. A no arms tackle by
Farrell Tom Curry saw Frank Lomani open Fiji’s account with a penalty kick.
England go up the other end, threatening up and middle and on the edges. After 20 minutes of play England began to find a very efficient and very threatening rhythm, Joe Marchant putting them further ahead with a converted try. In back play, however, Vinyasa Hambosi was found to have taken Marcus Smith with his cranium rather than his arms, and sees cheese for his trouble.
Fiji then lifted, carrying strongly, keeping it tight and repeatedly making the advantage line. In the 28th minute Viliame Mata crossed next to the posts. Although Farrell would kick a further penalty 6 minutes later, Fiji escaped the yellow card period relatively unscathed. But then the errors began to creep back in, losing control first of their attacking shape, and then the breakdown (the latter having turned into a free for all). Another England penalty kick sees them go to oranges up 21-10.
Both teams started the second period messy, but England had the better of the defence a bit of a free pass from Matthieu Raynal at the breakdown. Eventually Farrell broke the monotony with another penalty. Then Fiji found their spark again, with Peni Ravai almost shocked to find himself stumbling over the line after extended phase play. Replacement scrumhalf Simione Kuruvoli converted, and Fiji were only seven points behind.
Again Fiji surged, Semi Radradra making a rambunctious break down the left hand side. Chaos ensued, and eventually the Pacific Islanders found the right offload for Vilimoni Botitu to go over in the 68th minute. Another conversion, and the game is suddenly tied at 24-all.
England now looked rattled with Fiji threatening to completely run them down. All England, that is, except Owen Farrell. The Roses main man showed his class his composure, first by ending a dead attacking raid by slotting a drop goal, then calming a messy final quarter with a 78th minute penalty.
But this pulsating game was not over yet, and like Ireland Fiji threatened to have the final say – only six points behind and putting together phase after phase. But indeed like Ireland, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. All energy sapped, the English defence knocked them back again and again before securing a final breakdown penalty. Farrell taps, into touch – game, set, match England.
The Game Changer
Overall the difference was probably in the kicking. Farrell was outstanding, nailing six from seven off the tee and adding a droppie on top. Fiji however were wasteful with points opportunities, Lomani and Kuruvoli collectively hitting only four from seven.
As for a turning point, Fiji were poised late in the second half with an attacking lineout. A try there would have sapped English morale and perhaps seen them ahead by only four at the break. Alas, it was not to be and despite a manful effort, Fiji fell just short at the final whistle.
The Man of the Match
For Fiji, Levani Botia and Viliame Mata were menaces in defence and at the breakdown, the latter also adding a try to his stats sheet. Semi Radrada was also powerful, beating defenders with ease.
Ben Earl was strong upfront for England, whose pack as a whole was solid if prone to the odd mistake. However the plaudits must go to Farrell, who kicked 20 of his side’s points and was the experienced commander England needed to see out a thrilling contest.
Tries: Manu Tuilagi (14′), Joe Marchant (23′)
Conversions: Owen Farrell (23′)
Penalties: Owen Farrell (11′, 34′, 38′, 54′, 78′); Drop Goals: Owen Farrell (72′)
Tries: Viliame Mata (28′), Peni Ravai (64′), Vilimoni Botitu (68′)
Conversions: Frank Lomani (29′), Simione Kuruvoli (65′, 70′)
Penalties: Frank Lomani (20′)