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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

England into Rugby World Cup semi-finals after beating Fiji in a titanic tussle

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Owen Farrell scored a late drop goal and penalty on Sunday to send England into the Rugby World Cup semi-finals with a tense and nervy 30-24 victory over Fiji.

First-half tries from centres Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant had looked to have sent England on their way to a semi-final against either hosts France or reigning champions South Africa.

But Fiji, who scored tries through Viliame Mata, Peni Ravai and Vilimoni Botitu, produced a stirring fightback in Marseille although in the end Farrell’s 20 points with the boot proved decisive.

That denied Fiji the chance to make history and a first ever last four appearance as they fell at the quarter-final stage for the third time.

It was a fierce opening to the game, with Fiji’s famed tacklers to the fore, winning a couple of early turnovers.

But it was after England’s first turnover, claimed by Courtney Lawes, that Farrell was able to kick a simple penalty from under the posts.

Farrell kicked England’s next penalty to the corner and while Fiji held up the initial catch and drive, Tuilagi burst around the blindside to power through two tacklers, twist and stretch his arm over the line to score one-handed.

A brilliant counter-ruck from Fiji set up a penalty for the Pacific Islanders, but Frank Lomani’s kick struck the post.

Lomani did not miss his next chance, though, after a no-arms tackle from Tom Curry and England led 8-3 after the first quarter.

The match seemed to have taken a decisive turn on 24 minutes as England poured forward, with Marchant stepping inside despite an overlap to score a second try.

In the build-up, though, Vinaya Habosi made head-on-head contact with Marcus Smith in the tackle and he was shown a yellow card.

Yet the 14 men rallied.

Lomani missed a second penalty but soon after Fiji struck back as a clever pass through his legs by fly-half Botitu set up No.8 Mata to sell a dummy and dart over.

Although they were outscored with a numerical advantage, England soon wrestled back control and two more Farrell penalties gave them a 21-10 lead at the break.

Flying Fijians come alive

The second half turned into a war of attrition and became increasingly scrappy and fractious, with the two teams’ openside flankers, Curry and Levani Botia, almost coming to blows at one stage.

Farrell kicked a penalty and then saw a long-range effort come up just short.

But the game came alive on 64 minutes when replacement prop Ravai hit a perfect line onto Simione Kuruvoli’s pass to blast over and score.

Suddenly, Fiji had their tails up and after scrum-half Kuruvoli hit the post with a penalty, the Pacific Islanders struck again.

Semi Radradra’s brilliant offload sent Isoa Nasilasila streaking through a gap and he fed Botitu to score Fiji’s third try.

Kuruvoli’s conversion levelled the scores at 24-24.

Farrell had the last word, though, and despite Fiji playing on for almost six minutes after the final hooter, they could not find a winning converted try.


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