And so with the opening ceremony successfully completed it was tie to kick off the Rugby World Cup 2015. As hosts that job was down to England; their opponents were Fiji – a strong, fast team with a run of wins behind them. Would this England squad take their place in history – in a good way! The opening game hasn’t always gone to plan for the host and Fiji would be no pushovers.
I felt that there are a couple of question marks over the starting 15, not least Ben Morgan who’d had scant match time after breaking his leg in January. I’ve got more time than I thought for this one, so it may look like a match report, apologies if that’s not what you expect to see here.
It was regrettable for me that the crowd sang over the top of the Fijian Cibi, their ‘war dance’ but it seems that’s the norm at Twickenham and I can’t see it changing now, as much as I love to hear Swing Low Sweet Chariot, I wish we could hear our opponents too.
England started well in the set piece winning an early penalty in the scrum and giving George Ford his first kick at the posts, with the kick virtually in the middle of the posts Ford made no mistakes. The Fijian fly half however hit the posts with his first attempt after Brad Barritt was penalised for failing to roll away.
The first moment of controversy came in the 12th minute when Masi Matadigo and Dominiko Waqaniburuto lifted Jonny May above the horizontal, the result on the evening was a penalty to England, subsequently Waqaniburoto has received a one week ban. England kicked to touch rumbling over the line to score, the referee however awarded a penalty try snatching the points away from Tom Youngs. Nikola Matawalu was shown yellow and sent for a 10 minute rest.
We had the first example of a prolonged discussion between the on pitch referee and the TMO after Apisalome Ratuniyawara tried to clear Chris Robshaw out of the ruck with his shoulder, a penalty was awarded, but the worrying trend of over reliance on the TMO was started.
England made the most of winning the lineout from a Fiji throw, the ball was thrown long, which was anticipated by Tom Wood but not Fiji! The ball was passed across the line, with a flick on by Jonathan Joseph to Mike Brown who backed himself to score the 2nd try of the game. Ford missed the posts but England were 15 points ahead.
Matawalu in determined mood when he returned took the ball from the scrum and stormed up the line, the referee awarded the try without checking. Just before the kick was taken the TV replay seemed to show that the ball was dropped and so we had endless reviews by the TMO – my goodness it was beyond frustrating in the stadium! The try was wiped off the board.
What happened next was very worrying for the England pack, they lost the ball against the head on their own line, taking far too long to get the ball out, giving a penalty away. However Fiji had 5 points on their mind and a wonderful cross field kick by Ben Volavola was caught by the mighty Nemani Nadolo, competing with Anthony Watson. Yet again the TMO had to be consulted but the try was awarded, and a great try it was too! The kick was missed but Fiji were in the points.
Ford extended the England lead with a penalty on 33 minutes, keeping the scoreboard ticking over. Fiji responded in kind with poor play in the ruck, Nadolo stepped up and casually kicked the ball over with ease. Things were to say the least looking rather ragged as far as England were concerned and after another missed penalty from Ford, the teams went in at half time with the scores on England 18 Fiji 8. The hosts knew they were in a game!
Things can go flat at times during a rugby union match and I think it might be an understatement to say that was the case in this opener, is it PC to say it was boring? Well no, but it was!
Brad Barritt gave Nadolo another shot at goal after a needless obstruction. the kick missed which must have been a relief. The next controversial incident came when the TMO intervened after Tom Woods pulled a man away from the tackle by the neck. With the ‘neck roll’ being outlawed it was a surprise that the incident resulted in a penalty and didn’t have an associated yellow card.
England rang the changes early on 51 minutes with Mako and Billy Vunipola, Richard Wigglesworth and Joe Launchbury coming into the fray. I have to say I was hoping they’d liven things up, oh and quieten the England ‘fan’ who’d booed each and every Saracens player as their name was called before the game.
Things certainly looked livelier as far as England were concerned, a feature of the Fiji team when I saw them play Canada was that they tired with 20 minutes to go. So fresh legs with a point to prove were are to make a difference.
Watching the game on replay it’s quite funny that Wigglesworth disputed a penalty for holding on given against him, it does count when it’s your legs too! A second penalty awarded to Fiji within kicking distance saw Nadolo kick to the left of the posts, that would’ve closed the gap to a nervy 7.
Owen Farrell and Sam Burgess came on at the more usual 60 minutes, what would influence would the rugby league superstar have in a rugby union World Cup?
Another penalty for Fiji converted by Volavola did close that gap to 7 with 16 minutes remaining, something needed to happen for England! Owen Farrell was given an easy (if there is such a thing) shot at goal from in front of the posts bringing back that 10 point gap. It was good to see him doing the Joining Jack sign as he ran back, raising awareness of the fight to find a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
Kieran Brookes joined the front row on 69 minutes, however Fiji won their 10th Turnover not long after, that fact has to be a real concern with Wales and Australia ahead!
The England backs combined to see Mike Brown score his second try, showing incredible strength with two Fijians on top of him, there was a suspicion of a forward pass in the build up, but the try was awarded and Farrell, a more accurate kicker under pressure added the extras.
In a tournament where try bonus points are awarded, the 4th try was a must for England and Billy Vunipola who had surely made enough of an impression to be in the starting line up provided that try in the final moments of the game. With near on 100 minutes of the game played the interminable TMO involvement was torturous at the end of the official 80 minutes! But the try was awarded and the bonus point won.
England hadn’t played well for their 5 points, they have a lot to work on before taking on Wales, but a win is a win, next up, Wales.
A small mention of my journey home, it took 3.5 hours and was something of a nightmare, yet it was worth it to be at the opening ceremony and match of the Rugby World Cup 2015.
- Cost of Ticket £315.00 (Amazing to see in black and white!)