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England must clip the Flying Fijians’ wings to avoid opening-day history repeating itself

17 Sep | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
England must clip the Flying Fijians’ wings to avoid opening-day history repeating itself

Upsets in World Cup opening matches are not unheard of - but don't expect any complacency from England against Fiji on Friday night

Eight years ago the host nation of the Rugby World Cup kicked off the tournament with a match that nobody expected them to lose.

France – semi-finalists or better in four of the previous five tournaments – took on Argentina, who had only ever qualified for the knockout stages once.

Like Fiji, who raise the curtain on this year’s tournament against England at Twickenham on Friday, they were a top-10 ranked nation playing against top-five opposition.

They were not quite seen as making up the numbers, but not far off.

And just like the Pacific Islanders this time around, the Pumas went to Paris with nothing to lose.

As it happened, Argentina went and beat France. Not once, but twice – with the second occasion earning them a bronze medal in the third-place play-off.

So, don’t expect Stuart Lancaster and his captain Chris Robshaw to take anything for granted against the power-packed Polynesians – even if they are virtually unbackable at 1/100.

Opening games of the World Cup tend to follow form.

Rather like an opponent hand-picked by Floyd Mayweather, the opposition selected to take on the host nation tends to put up a brave fight before failing to go the distance.

Forget Italy in 1987 – crushed 70-6 by New Zealand in the first game of the inaugural tournament. That was a no-contest.

As was the All Blacks’ 41-10 rout of Tonga when the tournament returned to Kiwi land in 2011.

In 1999, Argentina pushed Wales hard before losing 23-18 at the brand new Millennium Stadium. The Pumas also kept Australia honest in 2003, eventually going down 24-8 before toppling France 17-12 four years later.undefinedSo what should England expect from the Flying Fijians?

We should start by saying that England have only kicked off a World Cup once before and lost, albeit to reigning champions New Zealand in 1991.

You would not expect a repeat result – even if Fiji are at full-strength and unbeaten in seven matches dating back to November of last year.

They are a side full of big ball carriers who pack an even bigger punch in defence, and if England underestimate them then they will find themselves in a whole heap of trouble.

But Lancaster’s team are not yet confident enough in themselves to take any opponent for granted, and that will safeguard against complacency.

They have failed to win a Six Nations title since the last World Cup and you need to go all the way back to their triumphant year of 2003 for their last Grand Slam.

They will take comfort from home advantage, having not been beaten at Twickenham this year and not lost to anyone other than the Southern Hemisphere’s big three on their own patch since 2012.

But consistency has been a problem for them in terms of following up a big performance with another of equal magnitude next time out.

That is their challenge in this tournament.

In Jonny May, Anthony Watson and Mike Brown they boast a potent back-three, and in fly-half George Ford and centre Jonathan Joseph they have footballers with the wit and vision to create space for them.

England are desperate not to feed Fiji’s counter-attacking game and that is wise.

They need to hit them hard at the set-piece – where they have struggled this summer – and then hit them there again.

Expect a close contest for 50 minutes before the hosts manage to pull clear and win by 20 points.

6/1 – England to win by 16-20 points

England v Fiji match betting