A scrappy affair in the World Cup curtain raiser eventually resulted in a maximum points victory for England thanks to a last gasp try in the 100th minute of the game. On another day Fiji could have caused an upset here as they acquitted themselves well and competed throughout the match.
Stuart Lancaster and a whole nation breathed a huge sigh of relief when Vunipola went crashing over the line deep into the red zone.
Both sides were guilty of handling errors and sloppy play in the opening portion of action, and it was a theme that threatened to rear its ugly head throughout the game.
Referee Jaco Peyper played a huge part in this match and although he did get every decision right, his over eagerness to consult the TMO almost killed the game on several occasions.
George Ford got the nod ahead of Owen Farrell at fly-half, and the Bath Number 10 produced a solid enough display. He kept his cool on three minutes to get England on the scoreboard from an expertly dispatched penalty.
Ford’s opposite number Ben Volavola looked to have leveled things up four minutes later, but the ball curled away and bounced off the outside of the left post at the last moment.
England finally appeared to have gained some composure when they gathered the ball from their own attacking lineout and began an unstoppable rolling maul towards the whitewash. A swarm of red was too much for Fiji to handle and England scored the easiest of penalty tries.
Ford added the extra’s, and the home side finally looked to be exerting their dominance. An inexplicable loose long lineout from Fiji then gifted England the ball on their own five metre line.
The hosts were able to secure the ball from a ruck and pass it brilliantly across the width of the pitch, through the quick hands and quick thinking of Jonathan Joseph for Mike Brown to collect and score.
The full-back sold a dummy before stepping in to touch down for what would be the first of two tries in a Man of the match display. This time Ford was unable to add the two, but England still had a 15 point lead.
However it was soon cut to 10 after what a first glance appeared to be an ingenious try from Fiji’s Nikola Matawalu. The Flying Fijian scrum-half deceived everybody by collecting a loose ball from the back of the scrum to run in a try from his own half.
The 26-year-old showed electric pace to evade Jonny May, sprint toward the try line and reach out a big paw to slam dunk the ball home.
Jaco Peyper awarded the five points and Volavola was lining up his conversion when the referee spotted the replay on the big screen and saw that Matawalu had dropped the ball as he was placing it down.
Fiji were cruelly denied a brilliant individual try, but thanks to a brilliant turnover from the England scrum and a piece of magic from the boot of Volavola.
Although some of his points kicking left a lot to be desired, the Number 10 stroked a brilliant cross field kick to the left flank, and big centre Nemani Nadolo out-leapt Anthony Watson to gather brilliantly and score a well deserved try for the visitors.
Volavola once again fluffed his lines from the tee and was way off target, and Ford converted a penalty for England. Fiji’s try scorer Nadolo then stepped up to the mark and kicked a penalty to reduce the deficit back to 10 points. The referee eventually blew for half time after Ford failed to stretch the lead back to 13.
Once everyone had managed to catch their breath after a dramatic first half, a whole raft of substitutions began to be made.
A quadruple change saw Joe Marler, Geoff Parling, Ben Morgan and Ben Youngs make way for Mako Vunipola, Joe Launchbury, Billy Vunipola and Richard Wigglesworth.
There was little in the way of action aside from a further two missed Fijian penalties, until Volavola converted in the 64th minute. Farrell then responded from the tee for England having replaced Ford a couple of minutes earlier.
Sam Burgess replaced Brad Barritt at centre, and he and Farrell were pivotal in England’s third try. A fluid move saw Farrell tackled to the floor but he was able to brilliantly pop the ball up to an on rushing Mike Brown who barged through for his second try.
England were now just one try away from a bonus points victory, and they piled on the pressure. A swift zig zag run from Brown deep in his own half looked to spark the decisive attack but he was halted.
With the clock dead, England managed to work their way to within five metres out. Brown once again looked to be clear through for his hat-trick but for what may be the tackle of the tournament from Fiji.
England would not be denied however and recycle after recycle eventually came to big Billy Vunipola to go crashing over and just clip the line with the ball.
Stuart Lancaster looked relieved come the final whistle, but was happy to have gathered maximum points.
“If you had said at the start of the day you’d get a bonus point four try win I’d have bit your hand off”.
England conceded far too many turnovers and penalties, and the result could have been a lot tighter against a more clinical fly-half.
Both the Coach and players admitted that there are huge areas to work on in what was a lackluster display, and Lancaster could ring the changes for Wales next weekend.
England: Brown; Watson, Joseph, Barritt (Burgess 62), May; Ford (Farrell 62), B Youngs (Wigglesworth 52); Marler (M Vunipola), T Youngs (Webber 74), Cole (Brookes 68), Parling (Launchbury 52), Lawes, Wood, Robshaw, Morgan (B Vunipola 52).
Fiji: Talebula; Nayacalevu, Goneva, Lovobalavu, Nadolo; Volavola, Matawalu; Ma’afu (Ravai 74), Koto Vuli (Tuapati 75), Saulo (Colati 77), Ratuniyarawa (Cavubati 41), Nakarawa, Waqaniburotu (Yato 60), Qera, Matadigo.
Sin Bin: Matawalu (13).
Ref: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)