England 22-30 Fiji
TWICKENHAM STADIUM — Fiji laid waste to England‘s World Cup plans with one of the greatest upsets in international rugby history at Twickenham.
Steve Borthwick’s team suffered England’s first ever defeat by a nation outside the traditional top eight of Six Nations and Rugby Championship rivals.
Argentina won here in 2006 at a time when they might have been considered “second tier”, but this was on a different scale. No wonder the hundreds of fans waving Fiji flags in the north-east corner of the stadium were going mad at the final whistle.
A win like this for the visitors from the South Pacific at the hallowed home of English rugby used to be just a dream, but not any more, as the devastating running of wing Selestino Ravutaumada tore England apart in a famous 30-22 victory.
England could point to a batch of banned and injured star players sitting in the stands – but the likes of Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola and Jamie George gazed down from the top tier of the stands on a whole load of chickens coming home to roost.
The panicked decision to sack Eddie Jones as head coach last December has been followed so far by the inability so far of Borthwick and his hastily assembled team of assistants to put it all right.
Now there are just two weeks to go to England’s World Cup opener against Argentina in Marseille. It feels a slim and shaky hope that some returning big guns will inspire a positive performance and England’s disciplinary woes could be revisited if a tackle by prop Joe Marler on Albert Tuiuse is the subject of a citing.
England’s backs did at least produce some tries at last here, in the fourth match of a mostly desperate warm-up summer series – Jonny May, Marcus Smith and Joe Marchant were the scorers. But Borthwick knows the mountainous scale of the challenge to rescue a game plan and confidence out of this latest embarrassment on the same hallowed ground where they were beaten by a record score by France in March.
England led 8-3 at half-time, but were trailing 23-22 after Marchant ran in his try on 67 minutes, and the cosy old idea of Fijians meekly folding in the closing stages was not the script being written on this dramatic day. The jinking Ravutaumada set up the replacement scrum-half Simione Kuruvoli for Fiji’s third and decisive try.
England have now conceded 23 tries in their last six matches. The breakdown was a theatre of hurt again here, and the good moments in rolling mauls and handling moves were too few.
Their other World Cup pool matches against Japan, Chile and Samoa – originally thought to be a walk down easy street – are now looking daunting.
After the final whistle, on the concourses of Twickenham, shell-shocked English supporters mingled with beaming Fijian counterparts.
Down below them, in the snap TV interviews, Borthwick said: “We slipped off too many tackles. [But] I am very confident in the ability of everybody around the England team.
“We are all in this together. This is a group that’s tight. This is a team that sticks together. We will progress from this point.”
Courtney Lawes said of Fiji: “One on one, they made us look silly at times.”