Steve Borthwick’s side slipped to their first-ever defeat by Fiji – and the Pacific Islanders were full value for their 30-22 win in west London.
Even the rugby gods do not want England to play attacking rugby. As soon as Jonny May ended England’s drought without a try from a back in six hours and one minute, the heavens opened – and then some.
The storm clouds are gathering around head coach Steve Borthwick, and with good reason.
Fiji were everything England are not. Play like this against Argentina in two weeks’ time, and England will lose their opening match at the Rugby World Cup.
England are in full crisis now. There is no other explanation. Ponderous, confused, at odds with each other – and even the driving maul was blunted by a spirited, potent and composed Fiji team.
Waisea Nayacalevu, Vinaya Habosi and Simione Kuruvoli all claimed tries for a fluent Fiji. Nayacalevu even had a score chalked off before the break for a marginal forward pass. So, it could have been worse. Although only those angry rugby gods know how.
May, Marcus Smith and Joe Marchant did grab tries for England, but the unerring Caleb Muntz slotted three conversion and three penalties as Fiji claimed a famous triumph.
Watch out Wales is all England will be thinking, with Fiji facing Warren Gatland’s men at the fast-approaching Rugby World Cup.
England meanwhile, have to be fearing Michael Cheika’s Argentina. The Pumas will be purring about taking on England in Marseille on Saturday, September 9. On this evidence, Argentina will win, and deserve it.
May zipped into the corner to start the day, thanks to Alex Mitchell’s silver service and Ford’s wide flash pass, for the most overdue of England tries.
Northampton man Mitchell delivered a first-half performance to make a mockery of his omission from England’s original 33-man World Cup squad. The speed and quality of his delivery in all aspects entirely outshone anything any other England scrum-half has produced in this wretched month.
Inexplicably though, straight after that score, England just stopped playing. Fiji started to dominate, Semi Radradra forced himself onto the ball more and more, and the home side wilted. Nayacalevu was denied a score by a marginal forward pass, after wing Ravutaumada carved England to shreds.
Courtney Lawes had to pull off a desperate tackle on the former Bristol man, to keep England in the contest.
England had to resort to the chief weapon of their driving maul to close the half, but even that was blunted. Two driven lineouts put Fiji on the verge of breaking point. Saracens prop Eroni Mawi was sent to the sin-bin and England were licking their lips.
England were a man up and went straight back to the maul. But somehow Fiji thwarted the drive and turned the ball over, to leave England cowed.
The hosts turned around 8-3 ahead, but extremely fortunate to do so.
Where Nayacalevu was denied a score before the break, there would be no stopping him after the interval. England were left bamboozled by the footwork and speed of thought of Fiji again, and the Toulon star stunned the hosts by powering home. Muntz’s conversion handed Fiji the lead for the first time, at 10-8.
Just eight minutes later Fiji stormed over again. This time Fijian Drua wing Habosi claimed the glory, with England in complete disarray. Muntz’s conversion and a subsequent penalty put the visitors’ lead at 20-8.
Smith climbed off the bench and into the full-back berth for England, and quickly snaffled a poacher’s finish from Ford’s cute chip. Muntz responded with another penalty though, to leave Fiji leading 23-15 heading into the final quarter.
Fiji beat England for the first time in the fixture's history!
Final score: England 22-30 Fiji pic.twitter.com/olrGfGEMCk
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) August 26, 2023
Ford sent Marchant into the right corner after a powerful maul, then converted the score to draw England within a point. Danny Care knocked on from the restart though, gifting Fiji an attacking platform in the home 22.
Kuruvoli eventually finished Fiji’s third try, with England undone by two fine offloads. England had no extra answer, and rightly left the field with heads bowed.
Say your prayers boys, you might just need them across The Channel.