Rugby World Cup: England hold off late Fijian charge to book semi-final spot

Captain Owen Farrell kicked 20 points to lead England to a gripping 30-24 World Cup quarter-final victory over Fiji on Monday (NZ time), as the Pacific Islanders surged back from 14 points down before Farrell slotted a drop goal and penalty to win the game.

Centres Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant scored tries as England led 24-10 early in the second half and looked in control.

However, in classic style, Fiji scored two tries in four minutes to change the mood, only for England, thanks to surging runs by number eight Ben Earl, to regain the lead, which they held during a gripping finale.

England reached their sixth World Cup semi-final and will go in search of a fifth final appearance when they meet France or South Africa.

Fiji players celebrate a try.
Fiji players celebrate a try. Photo credit: Getty Images

"It was what we expected," Farrell said. "They are a tough, tough team that can turn it on in the blink of an eye. I thought we started the game really well and to find a way to win and get through to the semi-finals is a big step forward."

For most of the match England were unrecognisable from the team who looked so lacklustre against Samoa last week, in attack and defence.

They looked to move the ball wide quicker and more often than in any previous game, except Chile, and stifled Fiji's attack at source.

Building strongly from the start Tuilagi showed great dexterity to spin and reach back to touch down for the first try and another break set up Marchant, who showed sharp footwork and a telescopic arm for the second.

Fiji winger Vinaya Habosi was yellow-carded for a head on head collision with Marcus Smith but down to 14 they hit back as Vilimoni Botitu flipped a pass backwards through his legs for Viliame Mata to score under the posts.

It was a rare attack, though, for a team seeking a first semi-final and more England pressure earned penalty opportunities that Farrell gobbled up to build a 21-10 lead halftime lead which they stretched to 14 points after 55 minutes.

Fiji kept probing, however, and in typical style, scored tries through Peni Ravai and Simione Kuruvoli after superb Semi Radradra offloads and with Vilimoni Botitu converting both it was 24-24 with 10 minutes left.

A surging Earl run set up Farrell for a drop goal to regain the lead and the number eight did it again, gobbling up 40 metres to earn a penalty which Farrell knocked over with three minutes to go.

There was still time for drama, however, as England held off a relentless series of attacks and thought they had won it, only for Farrell to be penalised for a deliberate knock-on before winning the decisive penalty with 86 minutes on the clock.

When England were stunned at Twickenham by Fiji in August it was their fifth defeat in six matches and they set off for France with criticism raining down from every angle.

Now, on the back of five wins in a row the 2019 World Cup runners-up are in the last four again.

Critics will point to their stuttering performances and relatively easy path but there is no denying that coach Steve Borthwick has plotted a route through the tournament.

England will undoubtedly have to find another level of attack but, on the back of Monday's improvement and their superlative display to beat the All Blacks in the semis four years ago, there will be much talk of "anything can happen on the day" during next week's build-up. 


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