Saints stars help England see off Fiji in World Cup opener

Tom Wood
Tom Wood

Tom Wood put in a huge performance as England got their Rugby World Cup campaign off to a winning start at Twickenham.

Wood and fellow Saints star Courtney Lawes started for Stuart Lancaster’s men, who battled to a bonus-point 35-11 win against a determined Fiji team.

Billy Vunipola was the late hero, making sure it would be maximum points with England’s four try.

Harlequins full-back Mike Brown was named man of the match after scoring twice, while England also registered a penalty try.

But Fiji, and their sizeable winger Nemani Nadolo in particular, proved spiky opponents, especially during the early stages of the second half.

And had it not been for a poor kicking display, the Islanders could have pushed England much closer.

As it was, they only had Nadolo’s try and penalty, plus three points from Ben Volavola to show for their efforts.

For England, it was a good warm-up for the beastly battle with Wales next Saturday, when they will have to up their game to beat Warren Gatland’s men.

But Wood did impress as he and Lawes showed their physicality on a tricky night at Twickenham.

And Kieran Brookes, who joined Saints from Newcastle this summer, also played his part, emerging from the bench during the second half.

Fiji could have been forgiven for a few nerves early on and Volavola’s knock-on gave England a scrum, which they used to squeeze a penalty.

George Ford landed the kick to give his team and early lead and Volavola missed the chance to level, hitting the outside of the left upright.

England had bossed the early stages and soon scored the first try of the tournament, which doubled as their 100th under the stewardship of head coach Lancaster.

Wood gathered a Tom Youngs lineout and helped lead the charge through a drive, giving referee Jaco Peyper no option but to award a penalty try.

Fiji’s Nikola Matawalu was sent to the bin in the same incident as Ford landed the conversion to give his team a 10-0 lead.

And England took advantage of having a man extra as Fiji threw away a lineout in their 22 and, after some slick work across the field, the ball found Brown, who dived over.

Fiji had enjoyed little possession in the England half, but they sprung into life 12 minutes before the break.

First Matawalu saw a scorching try ruled out by the TMO, who found the No.9 had dropped the ball, and then Nadolo got his team on the board with a superb score.

The wing gathered the ball ahead of Anthony Watson in the air and breathed life into his team’s bid.

Ford reponded with a penalty, but Nadolo instantly replied, with the powerhouse winger demonstrating surprising kicking prowess.

The England lead was 10 points at the break, but the small section of Fiji fans were growing in voice.

Nadolo missed a long-range effort seven minutes into the second period, but Fiji had their tails up, in attack and defence.

England were suddenly struggling, but Nadolo couldn’t find his kicking boots, failing with another penalty chance.

The home crowd were as flat as they pre-match beers and they were even quieter when Nadolo bulldozed his way to another penalty.

Kicking duties returned to Volavola and he made no mistake, narrowing the gap to seven before replacement fly-half Owen Farrell restored England’s 10-point lead.

Fiji were unfortunate to find themselves so far behind, but the gap was to get wider as dazzling footwork from Jonathan Joseph set up Brown for his second score of the game.

Farrell converted and England were suddenly seeking the bonus-point score with six minutes to go.

And they were to get it with the final play of the night as Saracens No.8 Vunipola popped up to dive over.

The busiest man of the evening, the TMO, who was called into action on numerous occasions, agreed that Vunipola had got it down, to huge roars from the England fans.

Farrell put the icing on the cake with the conversion to ensure England got off to the perfect start at their own party.

England: Brown; Watson, Joseph, Barritt (Burgess 61), May; Ford (Farrell 61), B Youngs (Wigglesworth 51); Marler (M Vunipola 51), T Youngs (Webber 74), Cole (Brookes 68); Parling (Launchbury 51), Lawes; Wood, Robshaw (c), Morgan (B Vunipola 51).

Fiji: Talebula; Nayacalevu, Goneva, Lovobalavu, Nadolo; Volavola, Matawalu; Ma’afu, Koto, Saulo; Ratuniyarawa (Cavubati 40), Nakarawa; Waqaniburotu, Qera, Matadigo.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)

Attendance: 80,015