Mike Brown scored two tries as England claimed a nervy 35-11 win over Fiji in the World Cup opening match at Twickenham on Friday.
Billy Vunipola scored a last gasp try that gave the victory respectability and maximum bonus points in Pool A.
England captain Chris Robshaw blamed the “emotion” of the World Cup for the jittery start, but insisted Fiji deserved “credit”.
“They are an extremely talented side and they put us under a lot of pressure. We played into their hands at times.”
England wing Jonny May said “we could have won a bit better, but it is a potential banana skin out of the way” ahead of games against Australia and Wales in the Pool of Death.
The tournament hosts would surely have wanted to launch their World Cup campaign in style.
But for much of the match they were imprecise against a powerful Fiji side.
However, Brown’s running ensured England made the winning start they wanted so desperately in front of a demanding 82,000 crowd who want a repeat of their 2003 World Cup triumph.
After a spectacular opening ceremony featuring Prince Harry and some rugby legends, England quickly went 15-0 ahead.
– Fiji surprise England –
England, playing in their change kit of red after Fiji won the toss to wear white, went ahead when fly-half George Ford kicked a 40-metre penalty following a collapsed scrum.
When Fiji were penalised for lifting England wing May, Ford kicked for a line-out inside the Pacific Nations Cup champions’ 22 metre line.
They won the ball and from a rolling maul, South African referee Jaco Peyper awarded a penalty try and also sin-binned Fiji scrum-half Nikola Matawalu.
Ford converted, with Fiji a man down in the 14th minute.
If there was no scorer for England’s first try, there was no doubt about the identity of the man who grabbed their second when Brown capped a well-worked move seven minutes later.
Blindside flanker Tom Wood stole a Fiji line-out near the islanders’ line and England, making light of tricky conditions for handling rugby, worked the ball across field from right to left. Geoff Parling, centres Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joesph shifted the ball quickly to create space for Brown, who stepped inside his man to place the ball.
Fiji nearly hit back with a spectacular try of their own. Matawalu, back on the field after 10-minutes in the sin bin, broke off the back of a scrum from 30 metres out and sprinted down the right touchline.
It looked as if Matawalu had scored one of the great World Cup tries but it was cancelled when replays revealed that, under pressure from Brown, he had lost possession trying to ground the ball.
Fiji, putting pressure on England’s scrum got the try they deserved one minute later when giant wing Nemani Nadolo leapt high over opposing England flyer Anthony Watson to grab Ben Volovola’s hanging kick.
Nadolo, Fiji’s goal-kicker, might have wished he had taken a conversion missed by Volovola especially as a Ford penalty soon made it 18-5 to England.
But Nadolo showed Volovola how it should be down by stroking over a 40 metre penalty to cut England’s lead to 18-8 under the Twickenham floodlights.
However, a ruck infringement gave Ford a penalty chance but his 52m effort just fell short and England led by 10 points at the break.
Nadolo missed two second-half penalties but England, far less physically imposing Fiji, simply couldn’t get their game going
After 51 minutes, England freshened their pack and also brought on Richard Wigglesworth for scrum-half Ben Youngs in a bid to test Fiji’s fitness.
Volavola made no mistake from 30 metres out in front and England’s lead was reduced to 18-11, setting up a potentially nervous final 15 minutes for the home side.
But Fijian indiscipline gave replacement fly-half Owen Farrell a simple penalty and England led by 21-11 to go two scores in front before Brown, after good work by Farrell and May, made the game safe.
Vunipola came on and completed a last minute try — with Farrell convering — to make the score look more than impressive.
Robshaw said the bonus could be “hugely important” in deciding who wins Pool A to get an easier path from the quarter finals.
And England have now won their last eight games at Twickenham, their best run of form since winning 22 in a row at home prior to the start of the 2003 World Cup. – Agence France-Presse