WHAT A VUN-DERFUL FEELING: England players gather to celebrate after a late Billy Vunipola try is awarded to earn them a bonus point
LONDON, 18 Sept - Two impressive tries from full-back Mike Brown plus a crucial injury-time score from replacement forward Billy Vunipola steered hosts England to a comfortable 35-11 win over Fiji in the opening game of Rugby World Cup 2015 on Friday.
The 30-year-old Brown, a constant danger with his running from the back, finished off clever passages of back play in either half to take the man-of-the-match award.
But after England were also given a penalty try early in the first half, the dramatic late effort from number eight Vunipola sealed a bonus point for four tries which could prove important in the toughest pool in the competition.
"That is a big try in the context of this pool," England coach Stuart Lancaster said. "Bonus points are absolutely invaluable. It was a big last five minutes for us. "
BIgger clashes ahead
Pool A also includes Wales and Australia, both semi-finalists at Rugby World Cup 2011. England wanted to come away from the opening game with as many points as possible with bigger clashes ahead. Fly-half George Ford kicked two penalties and a conversion while his replacement, Owen Farrell, slotted over seven points with the boot to complete the win.
Fiji made life difficult for England at times and the game would have been much closer if their goalkickers Ben Volavola and Nemani Nadolo, who also scored Fiji’s only try, had not missed four kicks between them.
The match began in drizzle, which made handling difficult, but England decided against playing safe, dismissing the idea of a tight, forward game and immediately moving the ball wide as often as they could.
After an early Ford penalty, the hosts were awarded their penalty try after 13 minutes when Fiji were penalised for illegally stopping a fast, rolling maul on their own line. Fiji scrum-half Nikola Matawalu was sent to the sin bin by South African referee Jaco Peyper for his part in the offence.
England’s second try, by contrast, was the result of a piece of brilliance from centre Jonathan Joseph and great finishing from Brown. The England backs moved the ball wide to the left and Joseph took and gave an over-head pass in one movement to set Brown free to score.
After returning from the sin bin, Matawalu went desperately close to scoring when he danced around England winger Jonny May near the halfway line and sprinted down the touchline. But the scrum-half was judged by the TMO to have knocked the ball forward as he touched down.
Just a few minutes later, Fiji did grab their first try when Nadolo showed superb composure to catch a high, wide kick from fly-half Volavola in the left-hand corner.
But England still took a 18-8 lead into half-time and, after both teams traded penalties, the hosts took control of the game in the last 10 minutes following a tight period early in which Fiji frustrated the hosts.
After a handling move down the left-hand touchline involving Joseph and May, Brown ran a clever line to take a short pass from Farrell to score his second. Vunipola's fourth try from close range was the reward for England's persistance in the dying seconds. Brown won particular praise from Lancaster.
"Brown was excellent. He inspires the team with his play. He plays with such courage, " Lancaster said. "He got hold of the game by the scruff of the neck, as did Billy. He wanted to get his hands on the ball and it is difficult to stop him."