England's Charlie Sharples takes advantage of forlorn Fiji
England 54 Fiji 12: Gloucester winger scores twice in England’s seven-try rout of dispirited South Sea islanders hampered by the enforced omission of several of their stars
In the official vernacular of world rugby this was a meeting of one country from tier one with another from tier two.
Seven tries by England to two from their underpowered South Sea islands guests screamed of the true gap between them, and the real tears were for the clownish set-up whereby Fiji were unable to select the team they wanted and winged the whole occasion with minimal preparation.
The match panned out as intended: a loosener that was lapped up by a near capacity crowd at Twickenham for the much stiffer tests to come for Chris Robshaw's formative team, who mustered only 215 caps between them before kick-off – mind you, Fiji, ranked 14th in the world to England's fourth, had just 152. Charlie Sharples, the Gloucester wing who took the right-wing place of the suspended Chris Ashton, and Manu Tuilagi, right, one of England's quintet of converts from south of the equator, helped themselves to two tries each in a rout that was the red rose's biggest win here since Italy were beaten 59-13 in the 2011 Six Nations Championship.
As the first outing for the newly fully-formed coaching panel led by Stuart Lancaster there was satisfaction in the successful selection of the playmaking full-back Alex Goode and the goal-kicking of Toby Flood, who missed only once in eight attempts. Whether these and other facets of England's play – the faultlessly accurate line-out throwing allied with barrelling runs around the field of the debutant hooker Tom Youngs, for instance – will stand up to the greater pace, force and nous of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand to come in the next three weeks is another question. Youngs, whose brother Ben, the scrum-half, joined him from the bench – they had a sweet moment afterwards with a photo on the pitch with their dad and former England international Nick – was honest enough to admit: "It probably wasn't the quickest game ever at Twickenham." That it wasn't.
Fiji are considering a formal protest to the International Rugby Board over their missing stars, with their coach Inoke Male confirming they had been turned down access to several players from French clubs including Jone Qovu and Masi Matadigo from Racing Metro, Napolioni Nalaga of Clermont Auvergne and Stade Francais's Waisea Nayacalevu. Still, they made the first dozen minutes extremely uncomfortable for England , including two penalty shots by the 21 year old fly-half Metuisela Talebula – both were skied and landed short – and a yellow card to Danny Care for a tip tackle on Leone Nakarawa. Well, half a tip tackle as the 5ft 9ins Care upended the lock by one leg.
Spared by Talebula's misses from being 6-0 down, and duly alerted to the threat of Api Naikatini and Akapusi Qera around the fringes – Qera of Gloucester, being one of eight European based players in a savagely under prepared squad that had just one training session together – England pulled themselves together with three tries before half-time.
Flood kicked a penalty to touch after 21 minutes, Tom Johnson won it in the middle, and going left to right England found Sharples carving through a thicket of soft tackles. With a penalty by Flood either side, plus his conversion, England led 13-0 and with a yellow card to Deacon Manu from the novice referee Glen Jackson to punish persistent offside, the outcome was already certain. A rotten pass by Joe Marler that ought to have made a try for Brad Barritt was one of many sloppy slips by England but his prop pal Dan Cole was good over the ball and after 35 minutes England had a penalty.
A horror throw by Vili Veikoso gave England a scrum in front of the Fiji posts. After a reset the England pack went forward so fast Care at scrum-half had to break into a trot to keep up, the panic-stricken Fijians piled inwards, Jackson's arm went upwards and Flood converted.
Care's break and Thomas Waldrom's bounced pass almost had Sharples in for a second try but his neat grubber, bouncing off the flag, clipped the touchline in-goal before he got it down. Still a heinously non-defended line-out and maul gave a clue to Fiji's thinking before the half was out and they were asleep as Goode tapped a penalty on the left and gave a short pass outside for the easiest run-in Ugo Monye will ever have, on his first Test appearance in two-and-a-half years.
Goode continued to pop up as a second receiver, giving England valuable variety, and Fiji had to settle for scoring the snazziest try of the second half when their scrum-half Nikola Matawalu scooped an England fumble up brilliantly, and dabbed the ball with a touch Lionel Messi would have applauded to see off Goode's cover with a little help from Talebula. It was a minor impediment as England had a try for Johnson, made by Flood and Goode together, a second for Sharples from Flood's long pass, and two in eight minutes for Tuilagi, showing his strength of directness even if his distribution is still a concern.
England were able to use their eight replacements as they pleased, ushering on Joe Launchbury, to roam in the loose, and Mako Vunipola as second and third debutants of the day. Fiji's substitute lock Seko Kalou scored at the end and they go off to play Gloucester next. Good luck to them. England have far bigger fish to fry and won't it ever be thus?
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