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England make vital winning start to World Cup campaign

Published 18/09/2015

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England's display will have provided both heart for Stuart Lancaster and some heart-burn - though you may need a TMO decision to verify that opinion.

Often thrilling in attack, there was occasional sloppiness that will interest England's more-vaunted group opponents, and no doubt send Lancaster scurrying for the chalkboard.

Importantly, England made the vital winning start to their Rugby World Cup - and achieved the bonus point awarded for scoring four tries with the very last play of the match. Lancaster would have settled on that, and the 35-11 victory, before kick-off: few teams will enjoy perfect opening games.

Fiji had promised a bruising encounter, and there plenty of hard hits. Jonny May, the first victim, was unceremoniously up-ended; George Ford stood up to charge that came at him with the force of a battering ram; Api Ratuniyarawa, an intimidating lock, was penalised for a shuddering shoulder charge at Chris Robshaw's head at a ruck.

England not only withstood this barrage, in the opening minutes they simply shrugged it off and, quite literally, made Fiji pay the penalty.

Lancaster would have pinned his hopes on a good opening quarter from his team, and they certainly profited from Fiji's high-risk strategy.

The first try of the 2015 World Cup will no doubt become a quiz question down the ages. Who scored it? Answer: no one, a penalty try given by South African official Jaco Peyper and scrum-half Nikola Matawalu sin-binned for bringing down the rolling maul.

England's second try owed much to Tom Wood's brilliant anticipation to read Fiji's line-out, with credits to Jonathan Joseph for a tap pass to Mike Brown, whose feint and strike harked back to a full-back predecessor Jason Robinson - and he too celebrated with a punch-ball moment.

Lancaster will have been much less satisfied with how the first half ended.

Matawalu, a scrum-half whose 22 tries in 59 appearances for Glasgow Warriors earned him a move to Bath, has electric pace. But it was his step that left May heading east towards Twickenham rail station while he turned west. Then the pace kicked in and he touched down in the corner for what might have been one of the tries of the tournament.

Peyper gave the try, Volavola was preparing for the conversion when big-screen replays alerted the crowd Matawalu had dropped the ball. The TMO took an age to make the obvious decision but England's relief was short-lived. Pushed off the ball at their own put-in, Volavola lofted it high towards the far corner.

As mis-matches go, Fiji's 6ft 5in, 20 stone wing Nemani Nadolo - he was the one with tears rolling down his cheeks during the national anthem - against Anthony Watson is right up there. Nadolo claimed it: obvious try, and equally obviously another delay while the TMO man did his thing.

The tension in the second half did nothing to help England. Frustrations grew, while the creative spark seemed to desert George Ford and his runners. Some cheap penalties also allowed Fiji to close the gap to 18-11 - just a converted try away from the unthinkable - before the Pacific islanders' own indiscipline allowed Ford's replacement Owen Farrell to extend it again.

It seemed Fiji had shot their bolt. England's replacements - including, yes, Sam Burgess - freshened things up but the visitors looked exhausted.

Brown, awesome to the end, finished off a move for his second try - cue gasps of surprise that Peyper did not resort to the flat screen.

The TMO was not to be denied the final say. With the clock having run out, a splendid move of dash and daring saw Billy Vunipola crash over the line. The TMO dithered and dallied... finally... TRY!

England jumped for joy. As Prince Harry said in his opening address: Game on.

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