Fiji 11 – 35 England
At the opening Jaco Peyper, the referee, was tense. He rushed at decisions, his voice (usually so relaxed and genial) was sharp and intrusive. A long wait, a big stage, being judged: everyone starts on edge.
Peyper settled down, as did most of the players, and the game … well, as per the 2011 opener between the All Blacks and Tonga, a bit of a bumble. The problem is that it is a banana skin for the higher-ranked team. Much, much better if you could start with the toughest match of the Pool so that the players forget about the occasion and focus on the playing.
Because if this seriously was how England mean to win the Cup, they’re likely to be seriously disappointed when they don’t get out of the Pool.
First, kudos to Fiji for playing with great discipline, particularly at the breakdown. Didn’t give away penalties. More, their scrum more than held its own when pre-game analysis had it targeted as the key weakness.
But England, o England, what were you even trying to do? It was never entirely clear. A lot of lateral movement, some crash and bash, a bit of kicking. The skills and strength and speed looked okay enough, but what was the intention of it all?
It seems to me that you had a theory that Fiji would simply fade away in the second half: their discipline disperse, defence disarray. But they didn’t, or at least not until the 72nd minute when Mike Brown scored his second try. Which opened up the possibility of a bonus point try after the hooter.
But that’s a desperately long game to play, and won’t be nearly good enough against the others.
So here is probably the best news for England: the bench did make a difference.