Shot of an England player carrying the ball during their match against Fiji

Red Roses deliver record-breaking win in World Cup opener but still lessons to be learned

Red Roses fans who missed their 4.45 am alarm last Saturday and tuned into England’s World Cup opener against Fiji for the second half may have been surprised by the score line.

The Red Roses sat on a less-than-comfortable lead of 24-14 and shortly before the whistle, centre Sesenieli Donu had run in a second Fijian try through an uncharacteristic gap in the English defence.

We were all guilty of thinking Fijiana, a team that has not yet broken the top 20 in the world rankings, would be another victim of a Red Rose pummelling from the start.

The finishing score of 84-19 certainly tells that story, and the Sunday headlines were filled with Fiji’s ‘thrashing’ or ‘annihilation’ at Eden Park.

Nevertheless, credit must be given to the side for the pressure they put the Roses under in the first half, despite the record-breaking 14 tries that followed.

Fiji made their intent known in the opening ten seconds as number eight Karalaini Naisewa made a clean break through England’s defence.

These moments of brilliance were peppered throughout the match and came from some perfectly weighted passes and exciting running rugby.

Their efforts were rewarded with tries from Alowesi Nakoci, Donu and, in the second half, Lavena Cavuru. 

However, more often than not Fiji failed to capitalise off their line breaks and made decisions that would have any rugby coach’s head in their hands.

Several balls were lost forward after some reckless offloads and one particularly loose pass allowed Leanne Infante to intercept the ball straight over the Fijian try line.

England’s dominance was fully asserted in the second half with the ball dotting over the line a further 10 times.

They remained ominous in attack, falling back on their relentlessly successful driving maul and well-executed set piece in the face of Fiji’s unpredictable flair.

It was a whole team effort, with the pack contributing five tries.

Claudia MacDonald had an excellent game, scoring four tries and no doubt putting herself firmly at the forefront of Simon Middleton’s mind in the battle for the wing. 

This quality across the board makes it even more impressive that eyes were drawn to the 20-year-old openside flanker Sadia Kabeya for Player of the Match.

Kabeya was ruthless off the ball and dominant in the tackle, providing one of the highlights of the match with her break before finding Helena Rowland to finish under the posts.

She faces a near-impossible task to dethrone Marlie Packer for the starting seven shirt in the tougher games, but has shown herself to be ready for the responsibility when it arises.

Abby Dow scored only four minutes after coming off the bench to defy the odds and return to the pitch six months after her leg break in a Six Nations match against Wales earlier this year.

She delivered in style, fending off several Fijian backs to reward both herself and the Roses’ physio team for their rehab efforts.

Looking past the 14-try trouncing, Fiji have exposed flaws in England which must be tightened up as they set up for their demanding French opponents this weekend.

This runout against Fijiana will shape up to be a valuable development opportunity for the Roses if they choose to make it one.

Despite an incredible performance, England’s overall tackle success rate was an underwhelming 75%, while seasoned kicker Emily Scarratt delivered on an uncharacteristically low 50% of her conversions.

Call it World Cup opener nerves or adapting to the environment, but strong defence and an accurate kicking game will be weapons the Red Roses need to execute well once out of the pools. 

They have been the team to beat for three years, are current world number ones and have now extended their unbeaten run to 26 – more than any rugby union team in history.

And yet Fiji posed questions in the first half that England didn’t quite have the answer to.

It looked initially like they didn’t know how to defend against the unpredictability and physicality of the Fijian backline. 

Adapting to this Southern hemisphere style of play will be key to securing the title, particularly if England are to face New Zealand in the coming weeks.

England’s next fixture will be on Saturday 15 October against France, 8am BST.

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Featured image via World Rugby

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