Fiji’s comeback 17-12 win over Georgia means they will now almost certainly qualify for the World Cup quarter-finals for a third time and will face England in the last eight.
The Pacific Islanders defeated Steve Borthwick’s side in a warm-up match for the tournament in August. Simon Raiwalui’s men have continued their good form in France.
Here’s what Borthwick might have learned from Fiji’s latest success…
Fiji doesn’t like expectations
Fiji thrives in the position of the underdog. When they were expected to win against Georgia, they almost muddied their lines.
Fiji struggled under the weight of expectations in the position of favorites against Georgia
Fiji were terrible in the first half as they came under pressure against the Lelos who were fantastic. Considering they beat England in their last meeting and their performances in France so far, many will make Fiji favorites to beat the Borthwick side.
After the game against Georgia you have to wonder if they can handle that pressure.
“You could feel it,” said Sam Matavesi, a Fijian hooker from Northampton, admitting that the expectation on his team before Georgia had a big impact.
England can focus on the lineout
Fiji struggled at the lineout against Georgia, losing five of their 16 throw-ins. Matavesi had difficulty finding his jumpers, especially in the first half. If there’s one thing Borthwick knows inside and out as a former closing and set-piece guru, it’s how to parse a lineout. The England boss will know his team can put pressure on the Fijian set-piece.
The likes of Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes have to compete on Fiji throws. “Our lineout wasn’t good enough, we lost collisions but we still won,” Matavesi said. “In the past with Fiji I’ve played games where we haven’t been able to find a way to come back, so to win and still be on course for what we want is a huge honor for this team.”
Levani Botia is a BIG threat
Slump threat Levani Botia is Fiji’s star man. Raiwalui can call on dangerous backs in Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova, but it is Botia who must try to keep England quiet.
He’s a threat on the breakdown, but is just as effective in wide areas as he is in contact. He is extremely physical. Botia’s stunning offload, when under pressure from four Georgia tacklers, set up Fiji’s winning try.
Levani Botia is a threat on the collapse, but is just as effective in wide areas as in contact
Georgia upset Fiji
Fiji are a hugely powerful side. They thrive when their dangerous backs can play off their forward carries. England will have noted that part of the reason why Fiji struggled against Georgia was because the Lelos forced them into mistakes by stopping them on the winning line.
Georgia was incredibly physical, racking up a whopping 197 tackles. It wasn’t just about the number of hits, but also about their size. Fiji was left shocked and out of rhythm.
That’s no easy task, but England must try to repeat the trick. “At halftime we knew we had to win some clashes and move forward,” Matavesi said. ‘We hit quite close to the ruck and then went wide without really having possession of the ruck. It was easy to defend, but all credit to Georgia. I thought they were excellent.’
Ford or Farrell need to expose Fiji at number 10
Fiji lost first-choice fly-half Caleb Muntz for the entire World Cup on the eve of the tournament after suffering a serious injury.
Teti Tela is his number 10 replacement, but the truth is he is not a top class playmaker. Tela’s hand kick is bad.
Back-up fly-half Teti Tela is not a top-class playmaker and England need to put pressure on him
Fiji are also a little inconsistent off the tee, with Simione Kuruvoli and Frank Lomani as their place-kick options.
Whether it is George Ford or Owen Farrell at number 10 for England, they need to capitalize on their lead against Tela. If England press him, it will stop Fiji from getting the ball to players like Radradra.
‘Our job is to keep performing to reach the quarter-finals. It won’t be easy,” Botia said.
Lomani added: “England are a better team. We are not concerned about outside noise. We concentrate on every match as a final. Even if we play England in the quarter-final, we’ll just play the way we play.”