England began their Autumn International Series with a 54-12 win over Fiji at Twickenham this weekend but this scoreline does not accurately reflect the performance. Despite Stuart Lancaster’s men running in seven tries, with braces for Charlie Sharples and Manu Tuilagi, they were at times scrappy and underwhelming.
The 42 point winning margin may have been a record for England teams against Fiji but there is still significant room for improvement before this weekend’s game with Australia. The home team started relatively slowly, although they defended effectively against waves of, albeit fairly tame, Fiji attacks. The South Sea Islanders squandered the opportunity to turn this field position into points, with their attempts at goal twice falling short of the posts.
Despite Danny Care being sin-binned for a debatable tip-tackle, Toby Flood managed to kick England into a lead with 14 men on the field. With Care’s return England were able to stretch this lead to 25-0 by half-time, thanks to a penalty try and one apiece for the two wingers Sharples and Monye. After the break England were able to take advantage of a tiring Fiji side, the distribution skills of Toby Flood, and Alex Goode from fullback, making the space for Tom Johnson slide over for his first England try, one which was quickly followed by the second of the match for Sharples.
Fiji were able to respond with an opportunistic try from scrum half Nicola Matawalu, who capitalised on loose handling by England, hacking and chasing the ball all the way over the whitewash to touch down. England reacted well through two powerful scores for centre Manu Tuilagi, however it was Fiji who would have the final say with a try under the posts for lock Sekonaia Kalou. Scoring 50 points is never a feat to be sniffed at, however this Fiji side were a far cry from the standard of opposition England will be facing in future weeks. England often lacked a clinical edge in their opponents 22, wasting overlaps that they will need to convert into tries against the tri-nations teams.
There were positives to take from last Saturday though. Alex Goode looked bright from full-back, showing the kind of fleet-footed step that might have been expected from a Fijian sevens There was also a promising performance from England’s newest hooker, Tom Youngs, and strong displays from the bench for fellow debutants Joe Launchbury and Mako Vunipola. Stuart Lancaster has opted to make only one change to his squad ahead of the game against the Wallabies, with Ugo Monye being replaced by mercurial finisher Chris Ashton on the wing after completing his suspension. England have opted not to rush back injured London Irish duo Alex Corbisiero and Jonathan Joseph and will be hoping to take advantage of Australia’s own injury troubles. England should be confident of winning at home on Saturday against an Australia team missing their star players, Quade Cooper and David Pocock. The Aussies, who slipped to 33-6 defeat to France in their last game, will undoubtedly provide a stern test for England but it should be one that they can handle through improvements in the precision of their attacking play.
Author: Jack Fairs