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GO FIJI GO
England must come out firing if they are to stop Fiji weaving their magic
My message to England for their opening World Cup clash with Fiji tonight is very simple — don’t freeze.
This match is all about winning and then moving on. As the host nation, there will be massive expectation on the England players and it’s about handling that and, to be honest, a 3-0 win over Fiji would release at lot of the pressure.
While most of the Twickenham crowd will be cheering on England, it’s also true that around the world there will be a lot of support for Fiji.
With Pool A also containing Wales and Australia, we know there will be an upset at some point, but let’s make sure it’s not tonight.
You cannot help but love the Fijians. They are everyone’s second favourite team because they take a lots of risks. If it clicks for them they are a very difficult team to beat — they are like playing against the Barbarians.
I never faced them in union but did come up against Fiji in rugby league and they do exactly the same things with a ball in both codes.
I was always envious because the Fijians hold a rugby ball in one hand which is something I could never do because my right hand has two end fingers that are like twiglets — all over the place.
Niko Matawalu has to be one of the best attacking scrum-halves in the world and some of his tries are incredible. He will be real danger for England around the breakdown.
A key issue will be where England make Fiji play the game. If the Pacific Islanders are forced to keep playing out of their own 22 they will make mistakes and that will offer George Ford the chance to kick penalties — or we will be given turn-over ball and they will be strangled.
England have to come out of the blocks as they did at the start of the 21-13 win over Ireland, being physical with a lot of energy and not giving the opposition a sniff.
England have to be squeaky clean and if Ford kicks poorly, Fiji’s backs will seize on every chance to counter–attack — they will have a field day.
Fiji have some of the best attacking players in the world and while I expect England to win, it will be a victory that is secured in the second half. There will be two different styles of play and it’s all about England not panicking and sticking to their plan.
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England will be too clinical and structured and have strike players of their own in Anthony Watson and Johnny May and I am looking forward to them getting into the action early on in this match.
Watson is my first-choice England wing because he has been the most consistent since making the team. The tries he has scored at Test level have shown his great feet and speed and he is also hungry to get involved.
There is lots of talk about the match up between Watson and Nemani Nadolo, the Fijian wing who is 6ft 5in and 20st. They both have great strike rates and Nadolo is strong and powerful and he will take some stopping, but you have to manipulate the situation to your advantage. If you go low he will offload and if you go high he can bump you off.
If I was playing against him tonight I would cut down his space because if he builds up a head of steam, it will be so much harder to bring him down.
The flip side is that because he is so big and Watson has such great foot work that if he can face Nadolo head on, that’s when you can get him.
Watson is quicker over the first 10metres and while they may be the same speed over 100m it doesn’t really matter if you cannot beat a man, one on one. We have to kick well and get Nadolo running back to collect the ball and then it will be a harder night for him. I would also give Watson the ball early in the game to let him have a go.
May is one of the fastest in the Premiership but sometimes the confidence hasn’t been there to bring the best out of his game.
There have been impressive examples of what he can do with that speed with his try against New Zealand last year the most obvious example. If you can burn All Blacks off on the outside then you really do have searing pace but at the highest level it is all about consistency and he has yet to find that in an England jersey.
Now we are seeing the work May has been putting in and he is much sharper and hungrier, looking for work and making a real impact. You thought “he’s a threat, give him the ball” and that is exactly what you want from a wing.
World Cups come down to who can deliver when it matters most and I expect England to do that tonight.
England vs Fiji: Five reasons hosts should be wary of Pacific Islanders
Here, we bring you five reasons why the hosts should be fearful ahead of Friday's showdown
Not even the clinical All Blacks can boast the natural ability to turn defence into attack that Fiji possess. It is part of their DNA to pick up a ball and run and if the opposition are foolish enough to aimlessly kick away possession or lose the ball in contact, then it will be quickly seized upon and used to launch some of the most powerful and skillful players in the sport.
Physicality Players from the Pacific Islands take pride in the way they hit in the tackle. When you are naturally strong and quick, a tackle becomes an offensive weapon which cannot only dislodge the ball but also do real damage to the player carrying it. It is crucial that the Fijians get the timing of their hits right or they will be quickly reduced by yellow cards. Player safety is a key concern at this tournament and ensuring legal tackles are delivered, not high and using both arms, will be imperative.
The closest talent to another Jonah Lomu is looming on the wing for Fiji tonight. Nadolo is 6ft 5ins and 20st which sounds more like a second row forward than a flying winger. He was born Ratu Nemani Driu Nasiganiyavi but, thankfully for commentators, opted for his mother’s maiden name, becoming Nemani Nadolo while living in Australia. The cousin of former Wallaby Lote Tuqiri, he has scored 15 tries in 20 Tests and is also a proven goal kicker.
The scrum-half made such an impression with Glasgow Warriors that he earned a move south to Bath and that is where he will head after this tournament. Matawalu scored 22 tries in 59 appearances for the Scots and it is his ability to burst through holes around the breakdown that makes him such a potent threat. If England are sleeping, he will punish them. Keeping him shackled is key.
A lock forward who plays like a centre and possesses the speed and handling to convince anyone that that is his natural position is in the backs. He will be a real handful tonight and must be stopped before he gets his powerful frame moving.