England into the last four despite epic Fiji fightback

England v Fiji –Rugby World Cup Quarter Final – Stade de Marseille – Report

England 30-24 Fiji 

With skipper Owen Farrell kicking twenty points, England moved into the Rugby World Cup semi-finals where they will face reigning World Champions South Africa after a narrow 30-24 victory over Fiji in Marseille.

Farrell, controversially selected to start over George Ford at fly-half after being suspended for the opening two games of the competition, scored the first points of the match with a short-range penalty in front of the posts in the eleventh minute after Fiji were penalised for a high tackle. 

Manu Tuilagi scored his first try for England in two years three minutes later, crashing over the Fijian line following a rolling maul.

Joe Marchant added England’s second try following a move that was set up by Ben Kay, with Vinaya Habosi being shown a yellow card and being sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on Marcus Smith in the build-up.

Despite being a player down, Viliame Mata capitalised on the sleeping England defence to run in Fiji’s first try of the game following a fine ‘show and go’ before two further penalties from Farrell sent England into the break 21-10 up.

Farrell extended England’s lead with another penalty shortly after the resumption before a period of domination followed for Fiji as Peni Ravai went over for their second try with replacement Simione Kuruvoli adding the conversion, before Vilimoni Botitu swiftly scored a third – Kuruvoli again converting to draw the two sides level with the final ten minutes approaching.

With Farrell adding a drop goal to put England 27-24 up, following a magnificent solo run from Ben Earl into the Fiji 22, England earned a decisive penalty in front of the posts and Saracens’ Farrell added the three points to extend the lead in the seventy-eight minute.

A nervy period followed for England as Farrell was penalised for a deliberate knock-on in the dying minutes to gift the defiant Pacific Islanders a penalty but despite their valiant attacking efforts and pressure from the lineout, Courtney Lawes ultimately forced an off-feet error from Fiji at the breakdown to bring the match to its dramatic conclusion.

When England were beaten at Twickenham by Fiji in August it was their fifth defeat in six matches and they set off for France with little or no great expectation for the tournament ahead, on the back of five wins in a row, Steve Borthwick’s men go forward to face holders South Africa in Paris in the semi-final of the tournament on Saturday – a repeat of the 2019 final. 

England coach Borthwick spoke to www.theguardian.com/sport following the game – “Immense credit to the players. I’d like to say, what a performance by Fiji. Not just tonight but over the tournament. Well-coached and jam-packed with world-class talent.

“I think for large parts of the game we controlled it. Fiji scored back-to-back tries, which they can do better than anyone else in the world. We needed to find a way to put points on the scoreboard and that’s what we did.

“We’ll watch [South Africa v France] with interest. This team was written off. We had no chance of getting out of the pool. Now we have a chance in a semi-final in Paris. And I’m sure we’ll be written off again. But these players rise to the occasion.”

Fijian coach, Simon Raiwalui also spoke to www.theguardian.com/sport following the match – “I’m a bit speechless now but couldn’t be prouder of the boys. We’ve worked so hard. We showed where we belong on the world stage. The whole team, the staff, yeah, it’s a bit of emotional at the moment.

“This is a different Fiji team and it’s the start of something special. I couldn’t be prouder of the group.

“This World Cup has been unbelievable for the support of the game, the global game, not just the top tier. It just shows the game is in a healthy state and we need to capitalise on that moving forward.”

England: Smith (Lawrence 23’) May (Lawrence 65’) Marchant, Tuilagi, Daly; Farrell (Capt.) Mitchell (Care 60’) Genge, George (Marler 61’) Cole (Sinkler 60’) Itoje, Chessum (Martin 70’) Lawes, Curry (B Vunipola 74’) Earl Replacements not used: Dan, Ford

Fiji: Droasese; Habosi (Maqala 46’) Nayacalevu (Capt.) Tuisova (Masi 72’) Radradra; Botitu, Lomani (Kuruvoli 56’) Mawi (Ravai Kovekalou 49’) Ikanivere (Matavesi 49’) Tagi (Doge 23’) Nasilasila, Tuisue (Miramira 76’) Tagitagivalu (Derenalagi 56’) Botia, Mata Sin-bin: Habosi (22’) 

Referee: Mathieu Raynal 

Assistants: Nic Berry and Pierre Brousset 

TMO: Ben Whitehouse