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ODT Online rugby writer Jeff Cheshire looks at some key points from England's win over Fiji in the opening match of the World Cup at Twickenham.
The final scoreline flattered England, who for long periods had a tough time of it. Their set-piece was inconsistent and their front row did not like it when Fiji got the better of them. At the breakdown their ball protection was shoddy and it stopped them putting anything together throughout the middle of the game.
Their two periods of dominance came early, when they caught Fiji off guard, and late, when Fiji seemed to tire. Through the middle 40 minutes they looked limited and could not keep a hold of the ball. They cashed in late, as fatigue caught up to Fiji. Other teams, namely New Zealand and Australia, will not tire like that, so they cannot rely on this to score their tries.
If Fiji had taken their chances
Fiji got the better of England throughout the middle of the game, but they were unable to turn that into points. After turning down a shot at goal just before halftime, which would have left the score at 18-11 at the break, they then could not convert their penalties in the second half. For all the dominance they had during the first 20 minutes after the break, three points were not enough.
Officials getting too involved
One thing none of us want to see is a tournament dominated by the officials. Yet there were several times in this game where play was stopped unnecessarily. The review for the no-arms cleanout and subsequent penalty was somewhat ridiculous given you see plays like that all the time. There was the review for Nemani Nadolo's try, which happened right in front of the assistant referee, and the one for the non-try just before that, which everyone could see was not a try from the first replay. Then there was the neckgrab, which while perhaps slightly unneccessary, is something that happens all the time and hardly seemed vicious.
Dropped balls, bad passes and poor kicks were littered throughout Fiji's game. Whenever they looked likely to threaten, a mistake bailed out the English defence. Their innaccuracies often saw them put themselves under pressure, as they were forced to scramble backwards to tidy up loose ball and allowed the English defence to pounce.
Their kicking was poor too, often picking out the England back three, who were able to run it back at what was not a great chase line. In contrast their own kick recpetions were awful and gave England field position that they should never have had.
The impact of England's reserves
The turning point where England regained ascendancy came after they made a handful of changes which reenergised their game. Fiji kept battling, but their lack of depth saw them try to play on with most of their starting XV and as they tired, England exploited the gaps that became evident. Making changes at the right time can be the difference between a win and a loss and as the tournament progresses, could be pivotal, particularly in games where fitness is a key factor.
Early rounds not always best indicator
Form in the early rounds of the World Cup does not always carry over to the knockout stages.
Often teams will start slow, but do enough to get through, then find their mojo when they need to. France did in 2011, scraping through to the final where they put on an inspired performance. They did it in 1999 too, as they looked poor up until the second half of their semifinal against New Zealand. In 2007 England themselves were terrible throughout the pool stages, but did enough to get through, then found themselves in the final.
Australia hardly convinced early in 2003, but again they did what they had to and found form in the semifinal and final to nearly steal the Cup from England. That accounts for one of the finalists, admittedly the losing finalist, of the past four World Cups and goes to show that early form is not everything. England won with a bonus point and at the end of the day, that is all that counts.