England lose to Fiji for first time in final warm-up

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England lose to Fiji for first time in final warm-up

England 22-30 Fiji: Pacific island nation beat England for first time

England lost to Fiji for the first time ever and slumped to a fifth defeat in six games as their Rugby World Cup preparations ended with another blow.

The Pacific Islanders scored three second-half tries at Twickenham as England’s fragile defence struggled to contend with their power.

England salvaged hope late on when Joe Marchant’s try and George Ford’s conversion brought them within a point.

But Selestino Ravutaumada set up Simione Kuruvoli to seal victory.

The day began with a sense of optimism for England as Courtney Lawes led out the hosts to mark his 100th cap.

By the time the full-time whistle sounded, the gloom around English rugby had deepened even further with their first defeat by a side from outside the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship, two weeks before the start of their World Cup campaign against Argentina.

Disappointing preparations come to an end
England’s warm-up campaign has been underpinned by discipline issues, key injuries and poor form.

As many fans stayed away, the entire top section of Twickenham was closed apart from a small section of seating occupied by England’s players not involved in the matchday squad, including banned duo Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola.

Captain Farrell and Vunipola, the only specialist number eight in the squad, are serving bans for high tackles which will see them both miss the World Cup opener with Argentina.

Jack van Poortvliet (ankle) and Anthony Watson (calf) have also withdrawn from England’s 33-man squad with injuries.

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Coach Steve Borthwick has named Alex Mitchell as Van Poortvliet’s replacement and has until Monday to confirm his final squad, which is likely to include Jonny May after his try-scoring return to the international fold, while one of England’s standout performers in the 2019 World Cup, Tom Curry, has not played all summer.

England’s defence is a big concern and they have conceded 11 tries in their four summer warm-up matches. The attack is not a point of strength either with only five tries in those four matches, of which they have lost three.

May ended their wait for a back to score since Freddie Steward’s consolation try in the Six Nations humiliation by France in March, but utility backs Marcus Smith and Marchant also got on the scoresheet in the second half against Fiji.

Preparation for the World Cup has not been smooth but the dress rehearsals are over and the real thing begins for Borthwick’s team on 9 September in Marseille.

England show promise but fall away
For the opening 20 minutes England played on the front foot as Manu Tuilagi’s direct running proved to be a threat in midfield.

They were rewarded when May, who appeared to be conducting a final audition for a place in the World Cup squad after Watson’s injury, handed off Ravutaumada to score in the corner and end England’s wait of more than six hours for a try from the backline.

But as the rain began to fall England’s dominance waned, though the conditions should in theory have favoured the hosts and hampered the visitors’ free-flowing off-load game.

Waisea Nayacalevu had a try chalked off in the first half for a forward pass in the build-up, but three minutes after the break he went over legally after Ravutaumada did to May what May had done to him in the opening exchanges.

Vinaya Habosi scored Fiji’s second try as he nonchalantly picked up the ball from the base of a ruck and raced clear to send the small pocket of travelling fans into delirium.

Smith’s introduction at full-back off the bench was an attempt offer England a spark in attack, and for the second time in as many games at Twickenham the hosts rallied after going behind, as they did in the narrow win over Wales two weeks earlier.

Ford chipped over the onrushing Fijian defence for Smith to gather the loose ball and score under the posts, but Caleb Muntz’s boot kept England at arm’s length.

Marchant’s finish late on handed Borthwick’s side hope but the elusive Ravutaumada skipped back inside and freed his arms to offload for Kuruvoli to dive over and extinguish any hopes of an England comeback.

Line-ups
England: Steward; Malins, Lawrence, Tuilagi, May; Ford, Mitchell; Genge, Dan, Cole, Itoje, Chessum, Lawes (c), Willis, Earl.

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Replacements: Walker, Marler, Stuart, Ribbans, Ludlam, Care, Smith, Marchant.

Fiji: Droasese; Ravutaumada, Nayacalevu (c), Radradra, Habosi; Muntz, Lomani; Mawi, Matavesi, Tagi, Nasilasila, Cirikidaveta, Tuisue, Tagitagivalu, Mata.

Replacements: Togiatama, Koroiduadua, Tawake, Mayanavanua, Miramira, Kuruvoli, Tela, Ravouvou.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa).