England 35 – 11 Fiji
Mike Brown (2), Billy Vunipola Tries Nemani Nadol
Owen Farrell (2), Geord Ford Conversions
Owen Farrell, George Ford (2) Penalties Ben Volavola, Nemani Nadola
In a game that England were expected to win comfortably, and with the pressure of being the Host nation, it was important that the Red Rose hit the ground running and lay down a marker. However, as the dust settled on an impressive opening ceremony, fast and free-flowing rugby was hard to come by.
In the first half, there was a sense of the teams trying too hard. An early English attack broke down through a miscommunication between George Ford and Ben Youngs. It was the English scrum, playing in an unfamiliar red strip that made up for a lack of fluency in the backline.
Fiji were penalised at the breakdown, with Ford kicking to touch. From there, a rolling maul was collapsed and the referee ran under the posts. With England firmly in control at this stage, they seemed to lack a cutting edge that has cost them in the last two Six Nations campaigns. Spilled passes frustrated England and disrupted any rhythm
It was Man of the Match Mike Brown who added the much needed spark. The 2014 Six Nations player of the Championship took it upon himself to use a fast, angling run to exploit a gap in the stretched Fijian defence and crash over in the 22nd minute.
Credit must be given to Fiji for how they responded to that setback. A searing break from Glasgow scrum half Nickola Matawalu ended in him coming up just short thanks to the defensive efforts of Brown. The respite was momentary as a sweet crossfield kick from fly half Volavola allowed winger Nadolo to touch down after a gigantic leap through the air.
In the second half, it was the underdogs who started brightly with the high risk, collision focused, offloading rugby associated with Fijian teams initially paying dividends. This period of dominance was epitomized by Nadola securing three points.
England coach, Stuart Lancaster, responded by making strategic substitutions as Marler and Youngs were replaced in favour of fresh legs. Yet, even with these changes, England struggled to put Fiji away and only wayward kicking from Nadola and three points from substitute Farrell kept England in a winning position.
That was until two tries in quick succession from Brown and Vunipola secured the bonus point at the death. However, the inability to kill off the game early will be a concern for England. On to the next chapter in the Pool of Death.