LONDON (Reuters) - England got the result they needed, if not the complete performance, as a four-try 35-11 bonus-point victory over Fiji got the Rugby World Cup started on Friday — though they had to wait until the last second to complete it.
After an early penalty try, fullback Mike Brown added two more before replacement forward Billy Vunipola settled the game in a dramatic finale.
It was by no means plain sailing for the tournament hosts as Fiji defended strongly and carried a threat but England will be delighted to have claimed the extra point that could prove vital in a tough Pool A also containing Australia and Wales.
The first half-hour could not have gone any better for England as they looked sharp and focused from the off.
A 12th-minute driving maul splintered the Fijian defence, forcing them to drag it down and concede a penalty try.
A suicidal Fiji attempt to hit the back at a lineout on their own five-metre line led to England’s second try as Tom Wood snaffled it and the backs swiftly sent it wide for Brown to score and open a 15-0 lead.
Things then went awry for the hosts as their scrum malfunctioned and Fiji’s livewire scrumhalf Nikola Matawalu had a try ruled out as he dropped the ball on the line having darted 50 metres.
The TMO ruled in Fiji’s favour soon afterwards, however, when winger Nemani Nadolo hoisted his 20-stone (127kg) frame above Anthony Watson to catch a precise cross-kick from flyhalf Ben Volavola.
England regained composure and another George Ford penalty put them 18-8 ahead at the break when coach Stuart Lancaster would no doubt have demanded that they tighten up.
His words would have fallen on deaf ears, however, as England struggled to get a grip on the game — or the greasy ball — during a ragged, penalty-laden 20 minutes that played right into Fiji’s hands.
Nadolo blotted his copybook with two missed penalty attempts but Fiji’s intent was rewarded when Volavola slotted one to reduce the deficit to seven points with 16 minutes remaining.
Replacement flyhalf Owen Farrell immediately hit back with a three-pointer and slipped a brilliant off-load following a break by centre Jonathan Joseph through a tiring Fiji defence before Brown claimed his second try.
England were desperate for the fourth try but had to wait until stoppage time, and then through an interminable TMO inspection, before Vunipola was ruled to have reached the line through a mass of bodies.
England next face Wales at Twickenham on Sept. 26 while Fiji head to Cardiff to play Australia on Wednesday.
editing by Ed Osmond