After the razzmatazz and build up to the eagerly anticipated Rugby World Cup, hosts England ultimately claimed the opening victory they craved against Fiji with a slightly flattering 35-11 score-line at Twickenham yesterday. By scoring four tries, they also ensured that the maximum 5 points for the win would be recorded alongside their name on the early Pool A table standings. It was a far from emphatic performance, yet what did we learn about England, Fiji and what we can look forward to in this global tournament?

  • Rugby union is a game of the full 80 minutes and beyond. Unlike football, the oval game is played over two forty minute periods, with the match clock being stopped when there is a break in play. However, England were thankful for an extension beyond the 80 minutes as the game’s last play gave them the opportunity to clinch a fourth try on the night. Billy Vunipola stretched his arm just far enough to reach the whitewash as he touched the ball down, ensuring a precious bonus point for England and maximum points.
  • Vunipola and Sam Burgess’ arrival from the bench proved the importance of a strong squad in the modern game. The original fifteen players had done the groundwork, yet it was the introduction of a plethora of substitutes that gave England increased impetus as the game entered the last quarter. Not only did Vunipola and Burgess batter a tiring Fijian rear-guard, but Owen Farrell played his part to add the extra kicking points on offer to round out the final score-line.
  • Mike Brown proved his star quality with two scintillating tries from full-back and several line-breaking surges. Much praise has been lauded on the host’s backs in recent times, yet it is Brown who seems the truly world class player amongst them. His consistency of performance was there for all to see yet again last night in his man of the match display.
  • The television match official (TMO) was heavily involved in making several key decisions and seems destined to continue to do so as the tournament moves on. Although rugby’s decision to allow the on the field officials to refer to the ‘man upstairs’ when they see fit can lead to a stop-start game, it is felt that they do so in the interests of avoiding making poor crucial decisions. However, the circumstances surrounding the eventual disallowing of Nikola Matawalu’s fantastic touchline effort bordered on the farcical. The try was awarded initially by referee Jaco Peyper, but as he watched the television replay it was clear that the ball had been dropped before the try was scored. TMO ruled the try out and Fiji lost their way back into the match at that point.

  • Fiji were well-organised throughout and it was only in the latter stages that they began to tire and England racked up the extra points. Whether they can reproduce that kind of performance against Australia on Wednesday might be a tall order. The Aussies will be fresh and keen to at least match England’s four-try haul, whereas Fiji have a quick turnaround in the pool which seems a little unfair on them. In Matawalu and the giant winger Nemani Nadolo they have players that could cause any side problems. Nadolo was reminiscent of Jonah Lomu in his pomp as he charged through tackles against England, brushing them aside with his power and scoring Fiji’s first-half try.