England ruins Fiji fairytale with World Cup win

England has ended Fiji’s crowd-pleasing run at the Rugby World Cup with a tense 30-24 win to reach the semi-finals for the sixth time.

Captain Owen Farrell kicked 20 points in Sunday’s (Monday AEDT) victory in what proved a gripping affair as the Pacific islanders fought to the end, threatening another huge upset after turning over Australia during the group stages.

It was a welcome result for the northern hemisphere after quarter-final losses for Ireland and Wales on Saturday, with the English countering a second-half fightback by the flying Fijians as Farrell kicked a drop goal and penalty in the final eight minutes in Marseille.

Trailing 21-10 at halftime, Fiji turned on its attacking flair and crossed for tries through prop Peni Ravai and flyhalf Vilimoni Botitu to tie the scores at 24-24 after 68 minutes.

But, ultimately, it couldn’t complete the comeback in its bid to become the first tier-two team to get to the semi-finals since the game went professional after the 1995 World Cup.

“It was what we expected,” Farrell said. “They are a tough, tough team that can turn it on in the blink of an eye.

“I thought we started the game really well and to find a way to win and get through to the semi-finals is a big step forward.”

England could afford to feel it had proved a point after its players had been largely written off and came in for scathing criticism only six weeks ago after losing to Fiji – for the first time – at Twickenham in a World Cup warm-up match.

Now, it has taken advantage of a kind draw to reach the last four without having played any team in the top five of the world rankings.

England will be the underdog in its semi-final in Paris on Saturday, against champion South Africa, who knocked out host France in another thriller. That might yet work in England’s favour, with expectations set to be low — outside the squad at least.

Fiji’s late rally at least meant the darling of the tournament didn’t exit with a whimper and its campaign, featuring an unfortunate loss to Wales and a storied win over Australia, will still be celebrated back home by the rugby-mad fans, who had to get up in the small hours of the morning to watch the game.

The Fijians paid the price for a slow start in which they surprisingly got dominated at the breakdown. England centres Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant both scored tries in the opening 23 minutes while Fiji winger Vinaya Habosi got sin-binned for head-on-head contact.

But Fiji’s huge open-play threat did materialise in the final half-hour and it thrilled the crowd at Stade Velodrome, where Argentina had beaten Wales on Saturday.

And just as in New Zealand’s titanic win over Ireland the night before, there was late drama as Fiji went through the phases with the clock in the red, looking for a converted try that would win the game.

It was going backwards when Farrell, who kicked 20 points, was penalised for a deliberate knock-on in centre-field.

He avoided a yellow card before Saracens teammate Maro Itoje produced the match-clinching turnover in the sixth minute of added-on time.


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