Rugby World Cup: Fiji savour historic win at Twickenham, as struggling England search for answers

Fiji are gathering momentum for the World Cup after a final warm-up game that saw them record a first-ever win over England, with the team adding discipline and defensive determination to their usual qualities of dynamic running and fast hands.

"We don't get to play too often at Twickenham," coach Simon Raiwalui said, hailing a 30-22 victory that was all the sweeter for showcasing some of the side's less heralded qualities.

"People think of Fijian-style rugby as throwing it around, but it's also about collisions, and being the best side we can be," Raiwalui said.

Fiji have worked on fitness and decision-making in particular, he said ahead of the World Cup in which they open their campaign against Wales on September 11.

Raiwalui said the creation of the Fijian Drua Super Rugby side has done much to give his under-resourced squad more experience, with the results clear to see on the pitch.

"The gap is closing," he said of Fiji's recent results as well as those of other nations such as Japan and Georgia who operate just below the game's traditional top-tier powerhouses of the Rugby Championship and Six Nations.

"The Drua has been huge for us, we've been able to expose 40 to 50 players to playing at the highest level in Super Rugby," Raiwalui said.

England's Marcus Smith dejected after the match.
England's Marcus Smith dejected after the match. Photo credit: Getty Images

Fiji have often looked better on paper than in the crucible of a tournament proper as set-piece woes and poor preparation prevent their ball-playing stars from shining, but Raiwalui and captain Waisea Nayacalevu think this team can go further.

"This group of boys compared to other ones we've had feels special," Nayacalevu said after himself starring on Sunday, with some devastating running and intelligent support lines to profit from winger Selestino Ravutaumada's constant line breaks.

"There's a very good team spirit at the moment and a good feeling within the group," their coach and former Fiji captain Raiwalui said as they prepare to also face Australia, Georgia and Portugal in Pool C at the tournament in France.   

In stark contrast, England could scarcely be heading to the rugby World Cup in worse shape after a run of five defeats in six games which has left key players injured or suspended, raised questions about coach Steve Borthwick's approach and hit fans' morale.

Opening Pool D opponents Argentina and Japan will have every confidence they can upset the 2019 finalists, with England's defence in particular leaking an average of around four tries per game across the summer series of warm-up fixtures.

"We slipped off too many tackles and whilst that has not been the case in previous games it was today and it's an area we clearly need to get right in two weeks' time," Borthwick said looking ahead to next month's tournament in France.

However, England's woes are many.

Talisman Owen Farrell is suspended for the potentially decisive opening two games after a red card in the warm-ups, while their only specialist No. 8 Billy Vunipola is also ruled out after a red in the defeat by Ireland.

Joe Marler escaped a card for an upright-looking tackle on Sunday, with Borthwick saying he had no view on whether the prop could face disciplinary action if the incident is reviewed.

"I'm very happy with this squad of players," he said, adding that where previous England squads had succumbed to in-fighting when results turned, this group were pulling together.

But Borthwick had no update on England's lengthy injury list, with the squad to be finalised on Sunday.

Combative flanker Tom Curry and prop Kyle Sinckler are among the injured, as are wingers Elliot Daly and Henry Arundell, with England already having ruled out scrum half Jack van Poortvliet and winger Anthony Watson for the tournament.

Courtney Lawes on the occasion of his 100th cap for England had few answers on how England might improve before their game against Argentina on September 10.

"It's pretty disappointing... we're not going to give up," he said.