Golden Brown gives Eng­land per­fect start

Hosts open with a win - and add cru­cial bonus try at death

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Front Page - Paul Hayward CHIEF SPORTS WRITER AT TWICK­EN­HAM

There was a beau­ti­ful con­trast here be­tween the Mes­sianic grandeur of the World Cup’s wider aim of con­vert­ing the na­tion to rugby union and the bru­tal sim­plic­ity of Eng­land’s task: beat Fiji, smash down the phys­i­cal threat, avoid an open­ing night calamity.

The oc­ca­sion got to them, all right. No, not Eng­land – Fiji, who were ev­ery inch the 1,000-1 tour­na­ment out­siders in an open­ing half-hour punc­tu­ated by TMO re­views that moved about as fast as the Chilcot Re­port.

Ex­posed to the new zeal of Twick­en­ham, and ex­am­ined by 450 mil­lion sets of eyes around the world, Fiji were un­der­stand­ably over-awed be­fore mak­ing it to half­time only 18-8 down.

They knocked on, gave away daft penal­ties and pulled down a maul to con­cede a penalty try to earn a yel­low card for Nikola Matawalu.

Al­ready this World Cup has found a prob­lem that needs sort­ing it: a pace of video re­view that Dick­ens might have recog­nised from his days ob­serv­ing civil tri­als. Rugby has em­braced look-backs and le­gal ac­cu­racy like no other sport, but it can­not spend whole min­utes re­play­ing events that were clear on the first rewind. A player drop­ping a ball be­fore he has touched it down, for in­stance (Fiji’s Matawalu). A mi­nor gripe. The les­son will doubt­less be heeded when the ref­er­ee­ing author­i­ties hear how much grum­bling there was among tele­vi­sion view­ers.

Rugby is start-stop enough al­ready with­out these un­nec­es­sar­ily elon­gated in­quests.

The good news is that it will not de­tract per­ma­nently from the prom­ise of a grand open­ing night, on which Eng­land started with a hunger to dis­play their au­thor­ity. The aim was not to lay on some Fri­day night runaround, but a cold and ruth­less de­moli­ton.

For 1,000 also-rans to face 7-2 shots ought to be pretty clear. But think­ing straight must be devil­ishly hard with the weight of a World Cup on your back and, in some senses, Eng­land will feel more com­fort­able with the fa­mil­iar chal­lenges of Wales and Aus­tralia, rather than dan­ger­ous un­der­dogs.

Only when the pre­views stop and the turn­stiles click do you ac­quire an ac­cu­rate feel of what a tour­na­ment will be. This one an­nounced it­self with the same gid­di­ness that char­ac­terised the Lon­don Olympic Sta­dium three sum­mers ago. Then, too, the crowd were fizzy with ex­cite­ment: grate­ful just to be there, fran­tic to show how much they wanted to get be­hind the event.

So for an hour or so be­fore the open­ing cer­e­mony the pun­ters rocked the sta­dium with their singing and danc­ing. The lis­tened obe­di­ently to rugby’s mes­sage about “in­clu­siv­ity” and “val­ues.” The Primer Min­is­ter’s twit­ter ac­count went all teenage, spray­ing out praise for the “at­mos­phere. Prince Harry pro­vided the oblig­a­tory world-pleas­ing monar­chi­cal glam­our, but with a new cir­cus barker’s edge. His unof­fi­cial role at this World Cup: royal rab­ble-rouser.

The pre-show show was co­her­ent, to the point and in­fused with just the right amount of drama.

Some­where in the bow­els of a sta­dium trans­formed from Six Na­tions caul­dron to neon, glob­alised su­per dome, the

Only when the pre­views stope and turn­stiles click can you ac­quire an ac­cu­rate sense

Eng­land team were ready­ing them­selves for the smash of bone on bone. Pool A, to the bot­tom of which at least one big name will sink.

Now, they could see what host coun­try sta­tus re­ally meant. Or heard it, any­way. The party out­side must have shaken their dress­ing room. The Fri­day night lights could be seen all across Lon­don; all across the world. All that hoopla, all that talk about con­nect­ing the team to the coun­try is un­der the arc lights with ev­ery kick and tackle.

The huge cheer ac­corded to Martin John­son, the 2003 win­ning cap­tain, be­fore the kick-off was an af­fir­ma­tion of what re­ally mat­ters. Win­ning. The old English urge to sub­ju­gate on rugby pitches will never go away. So they need a bit of John­son. But there were flashes here also of the other qual­i­ties they are try­ing to cul­ti­vate.

Ge­orge Ford, a cre­ative No 10, was clearly a tar­get for Fiji in the open­ing ex­changes. Mike Brown, Mr Com­bat­ive, gave him a pep talk to set­tle him down. Jonny May, whose tail is up, took the fight to big­ger men.

An­thony Wat­son, another po­ten­tial star of this World Cup, out-jumped the im­mense Ne­mani Nan­dolo. But be­fore half-time, Nan­dolo re­turned the com­pli­ment,

beat­ing Wat­son to a cross-field kick to score Fiji’s first try. The hope is that Wat­son, Ford, and Jonathan Joseph will en­ter­tain non­afi­ciona­dos and raise Eng­land’s player to a higher aes­thetic level.

They are the three to present English rugby as an ex­cit­ing spec­ta­cle. Yet no open­ing game in any World Cup in liv­ing mem­ory has been about putting on the Ritz? How could it be, given the fear of los­ing, the nerves of the play­ers and the big­ger tri­als ahead. Usu­ally it is about win­ning the at­tri­tion and avoid­ing slip-ups.

On a macro level the point was to get the pre­sen­ta­tion and the Cap­tain’s run: Chris Rob­shaw tries to break free from a Fiji tackle spirit right. There are no doubts on that front. It can­not pos­si­bly be Lon­don 2012 in scale, but it can re­vive the ex­tra­or­di­nary warmth of that fi­esta.

Eng­land are al­ready a thor­oughly com­mit­ted and pro­fes­sional bunch. We seek only to find out whether they are good enough – specif­i­cally, to deal with the best of the south­ern hemi­sphere.

How­ever hard it was for the team down there on the pitch, Twick­en­ham felt big­ger, brighter, more global, more prime-time. This was a night of prom­ise for a tour­na­ment the coun­try seems ready to em­brace.

It can­not pos­si­bly be Lon­don 2012 in scale but it can re­vive the warmth of that fi­esta

Ris­ing to the top: Tom Wood climbs high­est to claim the ball

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