THERE’S NO doubt England can play outstanding rugby league in patches, but they haven’t done it for anything approaching 80 minutes yet in this World Cup.
Having started well and then faded against Australia and Ireland in their previous games, England reversed the trend in their final group tie.
Held to 6-6 at the interval, they scored five tries in a blistering 15-minute spell immediately afterwards, before easing off again.
That won’t be good enough against either Australia or New Zealand, but if they can put it together for a full game they could challenge both of them.
Industrious and entertaining, Fiji – probably the fourth-best team in the tournament – led for a while at KC Stadium and were the better team in the first half, but 34-12 was a fair reflection of in the end.
The half-time break transformed England from a nervous and error-prone team into one playing sparkling, confident and devastating rugby.
Skipper Kevin Sinfield literally kicked it off with a perfect start to the period, allowing England to gain possession and man of the match Sam Burgess to storm over after just 24 seconds.
Rangi Chase put Brett Ferres (43) and Ryan Hall (49) over, Rob Burrow stepped through on 51 and Hall bagged his second on 55.
Ben Westwood had levelled from Sinfield’s offload on 38, so – with the captain kicking five goals – all England’s scoring was done in a 17-minute spell either side of the break. Asked afterwards if he was concerned at any point, McNamara claimed: “No, I was worried that the players might be worried at half-time.
“That was my concern. It was an extremely tough Test match, Fiji have some very good players and it was an extremely physical game.
“We were in a real Test match and I was pleased we were. I would’ve liked to be ahead on the scoreboard, but I thought if the players adjusted one or two things at the start of the second half that would make a difference.
“We did that for a period of the second half, not all of it and we probably fell back a bit into some of the things we did in the first half, but I am really, really pleased.”
Burrow lifted England when he came off the bench for his first appearance of the tournament, though that was at the expense of his Leeds Rhinos team-mate Carl Ablett, who took a bad bang to the head, but was fine after the match.
McNamara enthused: “Rob’s done a great job. He’s had to be very patient and he’s done so. He was on the field at the right time, when we started to create some momentum and get some quick play-the-balls. There is no better player, probably either side of the world, on the back of that in terms of the speed he can create and the opportunities that brings.” Sinfield also played well, Hall’s finishing was outstanding and new Leeds signing Tom Briscoe was strong.
As impressive as they were in the third quarter, McNamara’s side were lucky to be level at half-time. The role of the video referee seems to have changed over the years, from ensuring correct decisions are made to looking for ways to rule touchdowns out.
On 22 minutes Fiji’s Ryan Millard grubbered through, Sam Tomkins missed it and ex-Wakefield centre Daryl Millard touched down.
Video referee Shayne Hayne decided Tomkins was tackled off the ball and he was rewarded for his error with a penalty.
Then on 38 England got away with a clear obstruction in mid-field. If they’d got over on that play Hayne would have ruled no try and a penalty to Fiji.
Instead, referee Ben Cummins allowed England to carry on, awarded them a harsh penalty for Briscoe being tackled in the air and in the next set Ben Westwood crossed from Sinfield’s neat offload to square it up at the break.
Fiji had at least had the satisfaction of leading for five minutes when Tariq Sims stormed past Burrow from Ryan Millard’s long pass, before sending Eloni Vunakece over.
And they also completed the scoring, Semi Waqavatu brushing Leroy Cudjoe off with ease and Waisale Naiqama adding his second conversion.
England: Tomkins, Briscoe, Watkins, Cudjoe, Hall, Chase, Sinfield, S Burgess, McIlorum, Graham, Ferres, Westwood, O’Loughlin. Subs (all used): Burrow, Farrell, Hill, G Burgess.
Fiji: K Naiqama, Koroibete, D Millard, W Naiqama, Waqavatu, R Millard, Groom, A Sims, Storer, Civoniceva, Bukuya, T Sims, K Sims. Subs (all used): Vunakece, Botiki, Roqica, Evans.
Referee: Ben Cummins (Australia).