The road to a final at Twickenham starts with Fiji
And so here we are, some 1,426 days after Richie McCaw raised the William Webb Ellis trophy, the Rugby World Cup swings back into action with the hosts looking to set down a marker in what should be a cracking opener against the ever-entertaining Fijians.
Stuart Lancaster and his men will be delighted to finally get down to business after all the hype and expectation. England may only be second favourites for the title but anything less than victory on home soil will be seen as a failure.
Before thoughts can even begin to turn to outright glory, however, England must first navigate the treacherous waters of the Pool of Death, with Wales and Australia to follow in quick succession. Put simply, there is no room to recover from any slip-ups – and Fiji first-up certainly represent a potential banana skin.
The Fijians will be no pushovers, having won the recent Pacific Nations Cup ahead of the likes of Samoa and Tonga, and have the ability to run teams ragged through their backline flyers.
More’s the pity they were not drawn in a more favourable pool as the likes of Bath’s Nikola Matawalu, Leicester’s Vereniki Goneva and Crusaders’ 19st-plus winger Nemani Nadolo have the talent to light up the tournament.
It is not just the backs that can cause damage with former Gloucester stalwart Akapusi Qera and Glasgow’s Leone Nakawara leading the charge in the forwards. Make no mistake, the Fijians believe they have every chance of making the knockout stages and will look to take at least one scalp.
Where England should exert their dominance is in the set-pieces. The hosts have strength throughout the spine of their pack and now is the time for the likes of Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes and Ben Morgan to stand up as real leaders as Lancaster sticks with the same side that started so brightly against Ireland in their final blow-out.
From there the platform should be set for George Ford to weave his magic.
Fiji will be competitive but the home back three of Mike Brown, Anthony Watson and Jonny May should take advantage of any loose kicking or sloppy turnovers that inevitably creep into the islanders’ game.
England came firing out of the blocks against Ireland but may take more time to settle the nerves here. That said, the hosts should run out comfortable enough winners in the end but take a fired up Fijian side to beat the half-time handicap +10.5 at 23/20.
The match kicks off at 8pm on Friday, September 18th at Twickenham Stadium
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.