Rugby World Cup: This Is England, 2015
22:26 18 September 2015
England 35 Fiji 11
Watching England is never really that easy is it?
Having enjoyed the Twickenham experience a week earlier as they beat Ireland in their final warm-up match, but missed out on getting accreditation for the tournament, I settled on to the sofa for the best seat in my house for the opening night of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
And after a Danny Boyle-esque, London 2012 Olympic-like opening ceremony at Twickenham, with England’s 2003 World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson among a group of 20 legends introduced to the crowd, the teams emerged to plenty of pyrotechnics.
There was the hope of more fireworks to come and, following some emotional national anthems, with the Fijians shedding tears and then performing their traditional Cibi dance, we were finally underway.
England looked a bit strange in their two-tone red jerseys, which almost looked like a red vest over a darker crimson effort.
Ben Youngs hesitated to allow the kick-off to bounce, but England scrummaged well first up to win a penalty and open the scoring through George Ford.
Fiji hit the upright with a kick of their own, before the hosts put some good passes together after Anthony Watson claimed a high ball on the wing.
And the first try came with barely 10 minutes played, although not exactly in the expected fashion as England were awarded a penalty try after their driving maul was pulled down over the line.
The first yellow card was shown in the aftermath and Fiji fell foul of the official again with some over-exuberant work at a ruck, then a quick lineout throw went wrong and England had another try, with Saracens’ Brad Barritt – such a willing interviewee a week earlier – sending Mike Brown scooting in.
Fiji’s scrum-half sped away from a scrum near halfway to score a wonder try in the corner, despite the best defensive efforts of Brown and Jonny May, only for the TMO to then ruin the moment and spot the fact the ball had been dropped onto the try line.
But the big man Nadolo then caught a high crossfield kick and fell on Watson, before touching down, and Fiji were on the scoreboard, after the pesky TMO had been consulted once again.
Ford and Nadolo – aka Little and Very Large – traded penalties to make it 18-8, but Fiji were finishing the half well to give the hosts some nervy moments, although England were not helping themselves by turning the ball over.
Thankfully, May’s mazy run earned Ford another pot-shot at the posts, but the final kick of the opening 40 minutes dropped just below the crossbar.
Studio guest Sir Clive Woodward called England’s first-half display “sloppy” during the interval and current coach Stuart Lancaster cast an unhappy glance at the dressing room camera, almost on cue.
The early part of the second half did not do much to ease the tension and Nadolo pulled a penalty wide of the posts, following a spot of interference by Barritt.
But the crowd tried to lift spirits with a burst of ‘Swing Low...’ as England’s replacements began to ready themselves for action, hoping to make a big impact off the bench, and it was nice to see the Saracens trio of Richard Wigglesworth, Mako and Billy Vunipola entering the fray.
But Fiji continued to frustate not only the men in red, but also the armchair public, as the scoreline remained unchanged heading into the final 20 minutes, before Nadolo missed a fairly straightforward penalty.
Kicking duties were handed to Volavola when Fiji got another chance moments later and the gap was down to seven points, with 80,000 in the stadium and a worldwide TV audience suddenly raising their eyebrows.
Thankfully, Owen Farrell slotted one of his own after replacing Ford and it was 21-11 with just over 10 minutes left and we could sit back from the edge of our seat once again.
Some nice hands by May and Farrell, offloading from the floor, helped Brown juggle his way over for the third try, which meant we could all relax a lot more.
But then the commentators ramped up the tension again, reminding us England had to score a fourth try for a bonus-point win, which could prove key in this ‘Group of Death’.
Keeping ball in hand is always more exciting to watch, but the hosts spurned a good chance as the ball went to ground a few metres short of the line, then Brown was denied a hat-trick score by a superb tap tackle in the final phase.
But Billy Vunipola looked to get the ball on the line and we waited for the TMO to agree with those of us shouting at the screen in my living room and the crowd, who had already decided it was a fair score from the first replay on the big screen inside Twickenham.
“You can award the try,” the TMO eventually told the referee over the airwaves and a roar erupted around the ground before Farrell finished things off with a swish of his right boot.
A dramatic ending, but now we can sleep a bit easier. One down, six to go.