England launched their home 2015 Rugby World Cup with a laboured 35-11 bonus-point victory over Fiji at Twickenham tonight that exposed numerous areas of concern for head coach Stuart Lancaster.
A strong opening quarter saw the hosts establish a 15-0 lead through a penalty try and touch down from Mike Brown – setting the scene for a comfortable win in a ferociously competitive Pool A that also includes Wales and Australia.
But instead of issuing a statement of intent in their quest for the Webb Ellis Cup, they allowed Fiji to force their way back into contention and lost direction until the arrival of their bench in the final 20 minutes generated fresh momentum.
England, wearing their red change kit, entered the last quarter only 18-11 ahead but their opponents were tiring and late persistence resulted in a second try from man-of-the-match Brown before Billy Vunipola secured the bonus point at the death.
Lancaster declared ‘objective achieved’ in securing a vital five-point haul but the recurring problems of error-count, breakdown, scrum and discipline must be urgently addressed ahead of next Saturday’s pivotal showdown with Wales.
Fiji were heroic in defence and rose to the occasion magnificently, with giant wing Nemani Nadolo scoring a popular first-half try.
And on this evidence they are capable of causing an upset of their heavyweight rivals in the group.
Twickenham crackled with excitement after a rousing opening ceremony, but the atmosphere suffered from referee Jaco Peyper’s repeated and lengthy consultations with the TMO which robbed the match of any rhythm.
On one occasion Peyper awarded a try to Nikola Matawalu and just as the conversion was about to be taken, the South African spotted on the big screen that the scrum-half had dropped the ball over the line and reversed his decision.
The introduction of 2003 World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson and Prince Harry’s declaration of ‘game on’ forced the loudest roar of the impressive pre-match entertainment.
But the 80 minutes that followed lacked the same polish as the opening ceremony.
Lancaster’s men will now need to improve dramatically ahead of their clash with fellow home nation Wales to maintain hopes of advancing from Pool A ahead of their neighbours and the Wallabies.
An expectant nation awaits.