England 30-24 Fiji: Owen Farrell’s boot seals Rugby World Cup semi-final spot

England 30-24 Fiji: Owen Farrell’s boot seals Rugby World Cup semi-final spot
Manu Tuilagi scoring for England against Fiji
Manu Tuilagi scored his first England try in nearly two years in the first half
England: (21) 30
Tries: Tuilagi, Marchant; Pens: Farrell 5; Con: Farrell; Drop-goal: Farrell
Fiji: (10) 24
Tries: Mata, Ravai, Botitu; Pen: Lomani; Cons: Lomani, Kuruvoli 2

Owen Farrell’s boot took England to the Rugby World Cup semi-finals with a narrow victory against Fiji in Marseille.

England led comfortably by 14 points with 15 minutes remaining, when Fiji’s Peni Ravai and Vilimoni Botitu both crossed in a frantic four minutes to level the score at 24-24.

Farrell, whose name was booed when the team was announced in the stadium after he was chosen over George Ford to start at 10, vindicated his selection as his drop-goal made it 27-24 with eight minutes remaining.

Another Farrell penalty in the 78th minute gave England slightly more breathing room. Nerves were high when Farrell’s deliberate knock-on gave defiant Fiji a penalty with the clock in red, but England won the ball on the floor for a memorable victory.

After Ireland and Wales lost on Saturday, England are the last home nation in the tournament and on 21 October will face either hosts France or holders South Africa, whose quarter-final kicks off at 20:00 BST.

Either of those two sides will pose a significantly greater challenge for an England team who enjoyed their best performance of the tournament so far after a turbulent 2023.

England deliver for sea of fans

England fans celebrate victory over Fiji in Marseille
Thousands of fans crossed the Channel to support England in Marseille

England went into the game as favourites, but after defeat by Fiji in a disappointing August of World Cup warm-up games and an inconsistent pool stage, expectations were generally low.

England fans heavily outnumbered Fijians in Marseille and their side made sure it was worth the trip.

The start was as vibrant as Fiji’s orange kit and the hits were as brutal as it gets.

The breakdown had been identified as a vital area and Elliot Daly kicked to the corner after a delighted England had an early win on the floor.

A pacey attack was battered by wave after wave of huge Pacific tackles and when Steve Borthwick’s side won a penalty in front of the posts, Farrell took the three points.

Another chance soon came. England kept up the pace. A rolling maul made some headway before the ball was quickly recycled for Manu Tuilagi to win the muscle match and make it over for England’s first try.

Tom Curry avoided a yellow card for sliding underneath Josua Tuisova in a dangerous-looking collision and Fiji’s Frank Lomani slotted the resulting penalty.

So far this year, England had failed to mould their individual talent into a cohesive attack. Against Fiji, there were smart, instinctive running lines.

Ben Earl sent Joe Marchant through a gap, Jonny May was falling into touch but found Maro Itoje just in time. The attack swung right, then left and Marchant found enough space to score.

There had been a clash of heads between Fiji wing Vinaya Habosi and Marcus Smith in the lead-up, earning a yellow card for Habosi and a head injury assessment for Smith, which the full-back later passed.

After a second missed kick by Lomani, momentum swung Fiji’s way.

Despite being a player down, Fiji capitalised on a sleeping England defence and a show-and-go was enough for Viliame Mata to dart over the line.

Fiji continued to show their strength as a crowd of players carried Courtney Lawes into touch, before two more Farrell penalties left England 21-10 up after a promising first half.

England survive Fiji barrage

Vilimoni Botitu scores
Vilimoni Botitu’s try brought Fiji to within two points of England before Frank Lomani’s conversion levelled the scores

Borthwick spoke during the week about wanting his players to enjoy their time in an England shirt. For the first time in a while, it looked like they were.

Daly was lively on the wing and when used as an extra battering ram in the midfield and Earl rampaged as much as he has all tournament.

When the chance came, Farrell extended England’s lead to 14 before the tide turned.

Fiji had spoken in the build-up to the match of the expectation levels back home and the full weight of that seemed to be on their backs as they began their barrage.

Ravai eventually made it over and Simione Kuruvoli nailed the conversion but missed a penalty shortly after that would have cut England’s lead to four.

Next, wing Semi Radradra powered through England defenders and made a neat offload, allowing Botitu to score and Kuruvoli to level the score at 24-24 with his conversion.

England did not just have a nation on their backs – they were in the stadium. The vociferous fans willed their forwards into Fiji’s 22. There was no way through the defence, but there was space for Farrell to land the drop-goal.

A penalty followed, before England were forced to desperately defend against a prolonged Fijian attack valiantly trying to make its way to a first World Cup semi-final.

Eventually, the Pacific Islanders were halted and England continue their journey to Paris.

‘Owen should feel very proud of his performance’

England head coach Steve Borthwick on captain Owen Farrell: “He is a fantastic leader. He is the kind of leader I know I would w

…. to be continued
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