Many tipped Fiji to cause an upset or two in Pool C, and they certainly achieved that by pushing Wales all the way in their opening fixture before expertly dispatching Eddie Jones’ Australia side on Matchday 2.
However, fewer people would have expected the Flying Fijians to be bested by a Portugal side who were seeking their first ever win at the Rugby World Cup. It would therefore appear wise to always expect the unexpected when Fiji take to the field, and that was definitely the case when they travelled to Twickenham for their final World Cup warm-up match, claiming a famous first-ever Test win against their quarter-final opponents.
Steve Borthwick’s side had a similar pool stage trajectory to Fiji, comprehensively dispatching Argentina, Japan and Chile before almost coming unstuck against an unfancied Samoa side in their final outing. Despite the lacklustre nature of their victory over the latter, England’s 100% pool-stage record will still give them cause to consider themselves a better side now than when they lost to Fiji in August.
England’s experience at this stage of the tournament could prove decisive, with many members of Borthwick’s squad having played key roles in their drubbing of Australia during the 2019 quarter-finals (40-16) and subsequent semi-final win over New Zealand. Fiji have never reached the last four before, coming unstuck in their two previous quarter-final appearances, vs France in 1987 (16-31) and vs. South Africa in 2007 (20-37).
Route to the knockouts
- Won 27-10 vs Argentina
- Won 34-12 vs Japan
- Won 71-0 vs Chile
- Won 18-17 vs Samoa
- Lost 26-32 vs Wales
- Won 22-15 vs Australia
- Won 17-12 vs Georgia
- Lost 23-24 vs Portugal
England and Fiji have both proven skilled at retaining possession of the ball in this year’s Rugby World Cup, ranking second and fourth respectively in that regard, while Fiji have also averaged a greater share of territory than any other side in the competition (56.4%). The two teams have different ideas on what to do with that surplus of possession though, with Fiji having made more carries than any other team to have reached the quarter-finals (557), while England have attempted the most kicks in play (135).
Fiji’s relentless carrying has taken its toll on opposition defences thus far – they forced Wales into making 253 tackles during their opening match, the most any team has ever had to make in a single Rugby World Cup game. The physical strain Fiji’s ferocity exerts on their opponents has allowed them to score 43% of their points during the final quarter of games, the highest such rate of any team. England have also scored the highest proportion of their points in the final 20 minutes of matches (32%) and have conceded just 18% of their total points during the final quarter, the lowest such rate of any team. Therefore, this is likely to be a tie that won’t be decided until the final whistle blows in Marseille.
Fiji’s lack of experience could also be a key factor, with their most experienced player at Test level, Peni Ravai, having just 45 caps to his name, a total bettered by 16 members of England’s squad. Despite some dazzling displays of attacking rugby, Fiji’s defence could also prove an issue, with their 80% tackle success rate being the lowest of any quarter-final side. In fact, only Romania and Namibia, who both failed to win a single match, had lower success rates during this year’s pool stages.
England have struggled to generate quick ball at the breakdown, with only Wales (4.7s) having registered a slower average attacking ruck speed than them (4.4s), an issue which could become even more apparent against Fiji, who have done a stellar job of disrupting their opposition rucks.
Despite keeping hold of the ball well, Borthwick’s side have found it difficult to dispossess their opponents; only Tonga, Georgia and Argentina won fewer turnovers during the pool stages than England (21). Fiji, on the other hand, have won more turnovers than any other side (32), but no team has conceded more than them either (68). You can discover more stats like this in our Rugby World Cup Stats Hub.
As ever, Fiji have some standout names in their backline, with the likes of Semi Radradra, Waisea Nayacalevu and Josua Tuisova capable of causing any defence problems if allowed to run with the ball in hand. In the pack, Levani Botia has been a constant menace at the breakdown, proving equally adept at disrupting the opposition ruck as he is at securing his own team’s breakdown. Botia has won more turnovers than any other player from a team to have made the quarter-finals of this year’s Rugby World Cup (6), while fellow Fiji pack member Isoa Nasilasila is one of just three players to have hit 80+ attacking rucks (94), alongside Josh van der Flier (101) and one of England’s key players, Maro Itoje (88).
Itoje is far from the only threat Fiji are likely to face from England though, with the boot of George Ford already having emphatically downed Argentina – Ford scored all 27 of England’s points in that game, the most any team has ever scored in a Rugby World Cup match without crossing the try line. Nine of those points came via drop goals, with Ford’s total of three successful attempts the most of any player since Namibia’s Theuns Kotze kicked three against Fiji in 2011. Speaking of record points tallies, a certain Owen Farrell rounded off the pool stages by overtaking Jonny Wilkinson as England’s all-time top points scorer (1,181).
England vs Fiji Prediction
Win prediction: England 71.8% – Draw 0.9% – Fiji 27.3%
Score prediction: England 29-19 Fiji
The Opta supercomputer predicts England to progress to the semi-finals at the expense of Fiji. They are heavy favourites with a 71.8% chance of victory, according to the prediction model.
England vs Fiji Lineups
England: 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Jamie George, 3 Dan Cole, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Ollie Chessum, 6 Courtney Lawes, 7 Tom Curry, 8 Ben Earl, 9 Alex Mitchell, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 11 Elliot Daly, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 13 Joe Marchant, 14 Jonny May, 15 Marcus Smith
Fiji: 1 Eroni Mawi, 2 Tevita Ikanivere, 3 Luke Tagi, 4 Isoa Nasilasila, 5 Albert Tuisue, 6 Lekima Tagitagivalu, 7 Levani Botia, 8 Viliame Mata, 9 Frank Lomani, 10 Vilimoni Botitu, 11 Semi Radradra, 12 Josua Tuisova, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu (c), 14 Vinaya Habosi, 15 Ilaisa Droasese