Brown brings the party alive af­ter Fiji fright night

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - Mick Cleary RUGBY COR­RE­SPON­DENT at Twick­en­ham

Phew! How a na­tion’s nerves were shred­ded, how the anx­i­ety lev­els rose. Eng­land stut­tered rather than strode pea­cock-proud into the 2015 Rugby World Cup, strug­gling to shake off a spir­ited Fiji, com­ing too close for any de­gree of com­fort to los­ing the show­piece opener.

It was only in the lat­ter stages that they man­aged to pull clear, Mike Brown’s sec­ond try seal­ing the deal. They clinched a bonus point through Billy Vu­nipola with the last play of the game.

That could be the most crit­i­cal score of the en­tire pool stage. But it was far from au­thor­i­ta­tive, far from lay­ing down a stri­dent marker in this tough­est of pools. Wales and Aus­tralia will sleep easy.

Eng­land lacked for noth­ing in play­ing to the back­drop, a seething, rau­cous, wel­com­ing mass of whiteshirted hu­man­ity that had flocked to Twick­en­ham from early af­ter­noon. The open­ing cer­e­mony got them all in the mood, a sin­ga­long, some wor­thy words, a pa­rade of greats and flash­ing lights hit­ting all the right notes. The rugby had a good bit to live up to.

Home ad­van­tage has long been des­ig­nated the 16th man for the hosts but Eng­land had to make sure that such back­ing did not over­whelm them. Given the febrile build-up, it was lit­tle sur­prise that Eng­land made a mess of re­ceiv­ing the kick-off, play­ers stand­ing and look­ing at ev­ery­one else, Ben Youngs fi­nally tak­ing the ini­tia­tive.

That blem­ish was as noth­ing to the blun­der made by Fiji fly-half, Ben Volavola, who spilt Ge­orge Ford’s sim­ple down­field kick. From the scrum, Fiji col­lapsed, and Ge­orge Ford slot­ted the penalty from 30 me­tres. Volavola had a chance to make amends mo­ments later, only for his penalty to hit the post and re­bound wide.

So much de­pended on Eng­land’s set-piece. It may not be the force it once was, the point of dom­i­nance of times past, but it still has the clout and know-how to make life dif­fi­cult for sides such as Fiji. But again Eng­land failed to find that con­sis­tency.

Ge­off Par­ling was drafted to sort the line-out through the clar­ity of his call­ing, his fa­mil­iar­ity with hooker, Tom Youngs, and his abil­ity to read the op­po­si­tion. It paid im­me­di­ate div­i­dends when Eng­land turned down a shot at the posts in favour of a kick to touch in the 13th minute af­ter flanker Do­miniko Waqaniburotu tipped up Jonny May in a maul.

The throw was clean, the drive was crisp, Youngs played the rear­gun­ner with the ball tucked un­der his arm, and as Fiji piled in from the side, ref­eree Jaco Peyper, awarded a penalty try and sent scrum-half Niko Matawalu to the sin-bin in the process. It was 10-0 to Eng­land with only 13 min­utes gone, the stuff of coach­ing dreams.

Those warm feel­ings grew more pro­found with a sec­ond try in the 22nd minute. Fiji over­threw a li­ne­out deep in their 22, Eng­land pounced, re­cy­cled slickly, Jonathan Joseph flicked on un­der ex­treme pres­sure and Brown was able to gal­lop to the line.

Eng­land were as­sured and sharp, Fiji were rat­tled, forced to live off scraps. They al­most had their mo­ment, though, when Matawalu, their dan­ger man, bolted from a wheel­ing scrum and ex­posed May with a step. As he dived for the line, though, Brown knocked his arm and Matawalu dropped the ball.

Ref­eree Peyper was very shaky with the tele­vi­sion match of­fi­cial and was only alerted to the gaffe by the roar of the crowd. With a global au­di­ence of mil­lions, it was not the oc­ca­sion to be faffing about. Peyper had a jit­tery evening.

Eng­land, though, lost con­cen­tra­tion in the re­sul­tant five-me­tre scrum, con­ced­ing ball, the kick was hoisted wide left and wing Ne­mani Nadolo rose to take the ball ahead of An­thony Wat­son. It was a good score.

Mo­men­tum is cru­cial in this un­for­giv­ing group. There is no room for slip­page, and while bonus points (for four tries) were not at the fore­front of English minds, the no­tion that they needed to chase one in the clos­ing stages if the game was go­ing their way had to be on the agenda.

Eng­land, though, could not main­tain their early ad­van­tage, mak­ing er­rors. They needed good ball, quick ball, for their backs to flour­ish. It was not the just the Fi­jians who fan­cied their chances at hav­ing a crack with ball-in-hand.

Wat­son showed that he can be­witch with shuf­fling feet against France last month with a brace of tries. He soared, too, to pluck a ball from over the head of his for­bid­ding op­po­site num­ber Nadolo. Wat­son was cer­tainly not daunted. Nei­ther was May, whose po­tency lies in his speed, pure, skim­ming­sur­face pace, al­most im­pos­si­ble to de­fend against. The pair strained at the leash but could not breach the Fi­jian de­fence.

Ford kicked another penalty, as did Nadolo, but the Eng­land fly-half was not able to give his side the com­fort of a 13-point lead at half­time, his fi­nal kick of the half land­ing just short from 45 me­tres.

Eng­land had set great store on the im­pact of their bench. They felt that Fiji would tire in the last quar­ter and that this was the time to roll out the heavy hit­ters, the Vu­nipola broth­ers and Joe Launch­bury. All three were on the field within 10 min­utes of the restart, Owen Far­rell and Sam Burgess soon fol­low­ing.

Eng­land were aware that they needed to be more to­gether, more con­trolled, more force­ful. They had be­gun so well in the first half but al­lowed Fiji back into con­tention.

Eng­land’s dis­ci­pline was shaky, and they gave away too many penal­ties. They were dis­jointed and loose, rush­ing their play, kick­ing away pos­ses­sion. Fiji grew in belief only for Nadolo to miss two penal­ties. Volavola landed one in the 63rd minute to nar­row the lead to 18-11.

Far­rell calmed things with a penalty in the 67th minute. Brown struck five min­utes later af­ter a nice shimmy from Jonathan Joseph be­fore Vu­nipola’s fi­nal flour­ish.

Game breaker: Mike Brown takes a high ball on his way to scor­ing against Fiji at Twick­en­ham

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