Stuart Lancaster warns England of the pressure points to come

Coach says team need to show great improvement despite 54-12 victory against Fiji disorganised flair

There is no such thing as a bad half-century, as any bat-wielding cricketer will readily confirm, but some half-centuries are more satisfying – and far more significant – than others. England's celebrations at passing the 50 mark towards the end of their first piece of autumn international business at Twickenham were just a little muted, for the very good reason that they had spent more than an hour participating in a beer match masquerading as a Test match.

Not that the Fijians were to blame: the South Seas islanders arrived with a useful back-row combination – both Akapusi Qera, a familiar figure in English rugby, and Api Naikatini, who might have been Lord Lucan in disguise for all the red-rose coaches knew about him – gave the home side a rare old hurry-up in the opening stages of the contest, and there was a wonderful spirit of defiance about the scrum-half Nikola Matawalu, who provided 81,000 members of the paying public with something worthy of the ticket price by scoring the best try of the match.

But the notion that an impoverished team like Fiji, however gifted, could make a stand against a fully professionalised, lovingly prepared and lavishly remunerated side like England on the basis of one meaningful training session (and, it must be reiterated, with some of their best players absent for the most mercenary of reasons) was, and remains, ridiculous. Only under World Cup conditions, when they spend time together, can the islanders hope to be competitive – and the Fijians could not even manage that in New Zealand last year. The rest of the time, they are cannon fodder.

Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, recognised the truth of this following a 54-12 victory of record proportions that might have lured other coaches into a disproportionate response. "We need to sit down together and look at the tape," he said, "because we all know about the challenges waiting for us just around the corner." In other words, it was a reasonable start but nothing more.

Suspicious of hyperbole in the way his predecessor Martin Johnson distrusted centres who preferred passing the ball to smithereening the opposition, Lancaster could not even bring himself to bang the drum on behalf of Alex Goode, the Saracens full-back, who brought a fresh dimension to England's attacking game on Saturday. Encouraged as he may have been by Goode's ability to fix the Fijian tacklers with a shimmy of the hips as a means of buying an extra yard of space for the likes of Charlie Sharples and Manu Tuilagi, the coach was keener to talk about the newcomer's excellent defensive performance against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth last June.

"He showed that day how accomplished he is under the high ball," Lancaster said. "It's a very important aspect of the game: we know that the teams coming to Twickenham over the next three weeks will be far more structured than the Fijians and will apply more pressure. Of course, you need players with footballing intelligence to break down sides like Australia, South Africa and New Zealand and we saw a lot of intelligent rugby from Alex out there. But none of the players are shouting from the rooftops as a result of this performance. We'll need to take things up another couple of levels."

Even so, Goode could hardly have done more to stare down the threat of the Harlequins full-back Mike Brown, who also has designs on the No 15 shirt.

Much the same could be said of Sharples, whose opportunity on the wing came as a direct result of Chris Ashton's inability to stay on the right side of the disciplinary class. Sharples seized the moment and made it his own, roaming from one flank to the other with Ashton-esque freedom and scoring two tries as a result, the first of them very good indeed.

It goes without saying that if he holds his place against the Wallabies – or if Lancaster decides to play Sharples and Ashton together at the expense of Ugo Monye, who allowed the game to pass him by despite the never-ending stream of front-foot ball delivered by the England pack – he will find life a tad more demanding. However poorly the Australians performed in being duffed up by France in Paris at the weekend, their back division will ask questions when they arrive in London, some of which may be unanswerable.

As the Fijians do not have a front row worth a light at the best of times, this was always going to be a cakewalk debut for the new hooker Tom Youngs. Joe Marler and Dan Cole acted as a comfort blanket for the Leicester forward at the set-piece, although both embarrassed themselves in open field when attempting to perform artistic feats not traditionally associated with players of their particular type, and the debutant also hit his targets at the line-out – a major talking point in the build-up to the game.

Yet it was his performance in the loose that caught the eye. Squat, low-slung and quicker than anyone has a right to expect of a 17st sportsman, Youngs cut a dash with a bustling display eerily reminiscent of his recent predecessor Lee Mears, spiced with extra pace and aggression. To his credit, he was one of the first England forwards to take the game by the scruff of the neck after a limp start. By the time the Fijians were dead and buried midway through the second quarter, he was having himself a party.

All of which would have left Twickenham man and woman in an advanced state of happiness but for the simultaneous urge to cry for the Fijians, disorganised at the outset and thoroughly dismantled by the end.

From the moment Toby Flood opened the scoring with a penalty on 19 minutes, the tourists barely laid a hand on the ball. Glen Jackson was big-hearted enough to cut them some slack, even though the referee was controlling an international match for the first time and must have been tempted to do everything by the book, right down to the last comma. Did his sympathetic approach help them? Not really.

When the admirable Matawalu cut loose on 53 minutes – when he took a difficult ball one-handed in his own 22, left Tuilagi and Monye in his wake as he sped up the right, slid an intelligent kick towards the line and evaded Goode's obstructive covering run to beat Brad Barritt to the touchdown – it was a moment to savour. Sadly, it was also a moment that exposed international rugby in the full, ghastly light of its inequality.

England: A Goode; C Sharples, M Tuilagi, B Barritt, U Monye; T Flood, D Care; J Marler, T Youngs, D Cole, T Palmer, G Parling, T Johnson, C Robshaw (capt), T Waldrom. Replacements: M Vunipola (for Marler 45), J Launchbury (for Palmer 49), M Brown (for Monye 58), O Farrell (for Flood 58), B Youngs (for Care 58), T Wood (for Johnson 58), D Wilson (for Cole 63), D Paice (for T Youngs 65).

Fiji: S Koniferedi; S Waru, V Goneva, S Naqelevuki, W Votu; M Talebula, N Matawalu; B Makutu, V Veikoso, D Manu (capt), L Nakarawa, A Ratuniyarawa, A Naikatini, M Ravulo, A Qera. Replacements: S Somoca (for Ravulo 28-38, for Makutu 40), J Matavesi (for Koniferedi 40), S Naurere (for Veikoso 45), I Ratuva (for Naikatini 49), R Fatiaki (for Wara 65), M Saulo (for Goneva 67), Ravulo (for Somoca 70), S Kalou (for Ratuniyarawa 70), K Bola (for Votu 73).

Referee: G Jackson (New Zealand).

Back in contention: Three challengers for an england recall

Chris Ashton

The Saracens wing missed the Fiji game through suspension but is available to face the Wallabies, against whom he has scored electrifying tries in the past. Difficult to leave out.

Jonathan Joseph

Impressive in his early England performances last summer, the London Irish back has been suffering from an ankle injury. The coaches think he may be fit for Australia.

Alex Corbisiero

One of the thinkers in the red-rose pack, the London Irish loose-head prop has recovered from a knee injury and played his first club game of the season yesterday.


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before