England made many mistakes and Fiji turned over a lot of ball during the opening game of RWC 2015 between England and Fiji. When such big athletic rugby players like the Fijians are tackling you and blasting through rucks, this level of physicality causes spills and fractures in the flow of a game.
I doubt Australia or Wales or Uruguay, the other teams in Pool A, are going to be as explosive through the rucks as Fiji. The fact that England came away from this match with the full compliment of points and everyone still intact is exactly what was required. Teams build through the tournament and this was a great start for England.
Fiji were very organised and focused in defence allowing the big hitters to work within this structure. Fiji’s lineout never was as good as England but it wasn’t the shambles we have grown used to seeing from Pacific Island teams.
The Fiji scrum was penalised numerous times by Jaco Peyper I feel unfairly. It seemed as though Peyper was confused by what he expected to see and what he was actually seeing. I think he expected to see the English dominate all set-pieces as this is what has always happened when Pacific Island teams come up against the more established teams in world rugby.
In particular Joe Marler was not scrumming square. He was repetitively scrumming inwards and Manasa Saulo was getting the blame. When a replay of the scrum was shown from a top view Clive Woodward said in commentary that he thought Marler was lucky to get away with it. Mentioning the tell tale sign of a gap between Marler’s hip and Tom Young’s hip.
Dan Cole it would seem was doing something sinister. Judging at one stage by Campese Ma’afu’s reaction to fairly and ‘squarely’ scrumming Dan Cole off the ball. The English scrumming is very technical but the front row hasn’t convinced me that they are all that strong. I do question how ethical the scrumming is.
In fact I feel there isn’t a hard man in the England tight five in the mould of a Martin Johnson, or a Wade Dooley or Jason Leonard, a central player to lead the charge. When the England forwards did start making headway in the second half by taking it straight up the middle this was led by loose forwards Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood. I’m sure Australia will have taken note of this. Will Skelton is that player for the Aussie’s.
England’s change of gameplan from first half to second half came from the half time team talk with the brains trust in attendance in the changeroom. This may be a concern that the players themselves are not working out what is required. How much decision making is being made by the players?
The Fijian forwards repetitively picked the ball up from a ruck and ran laterally away from the ruck and not once did I see an English forward put a big hit on one of these players. The guard and bodyguard at each ruck should have been getting up quick and smashing these players in the tackle.
The Fijians started off with their massive wing Nemani Nadolo running down the fly-half’s channel forcing the much smaller George Ford to tackle him. They never persisted with this and never managed to get Nadolo in space to be destructive. It seemed after the opening 20 minutes Fiji’s attack reverted back to the instinctive pick and go with the ball carrier trying to get an off load for the next runner. There just wasn’t any structure or direction to the Fijian attack. Too often trying overdoing the direct running and not using the width of the pitch enough.
Johnny Wilkinson said if you had to write down on a piece of paper what it was that each team was trying to do to the other, you’d be unsure of what to write. There did seem to be a lack of aim until near the end when England started making headway through the forwards before going wide.
With such physical encounters it isn’t always easy to appreciate each teams purpose but nontheless it proved to be entertaining. Both teams will probably improve on their next performance