England were lucky to come away with the win after a grueling quarterfinal against the Flying Fijians that ended Fiji’s crowd-pleasing run at the Rugby World Cup with a tense 30-24 win.
Without England Captain Owen Farrell’s right boot and a dramatic late interception and 50-metre burst from Ben Earl which tilted the contest back in England’s favour at its most delicate point, it might have been a wholly different situation.
First-half tries from Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant and 20 points from the boot of England captain Owen Farrell were just enough to see Steve Borthwick’s men over the line as the Flying Fijians made a remarkable comeback in Marseille to push the match right down to the wire.
The Flying Fijians leave the tournament with their reputation enhanced. A magnificent and talented side with the structure of a team that now plays regularly together, they’ve made Fiji and the Pacific proud.
Fiji have been the RWC neutral favourites as a revered and respected outfit. It took something very special by an outstanding England team to get past them in an incredible quarterfinal.
“Bit of mixed emotion,” Fiji captain Waisea Nayacalevu said. “Where we’ve come from, where we are.”
England had led comfortably by 14 points with 15 minutes remaining, when Fiji’s Peni Ravai and Vilimoni Botitu both crossed in a frantic four minutes to level the score at 24-24.
England managed to hold off a second-half fightback by the Flying Fijians as Farrell kicked a drop goal and a penalty in the final eight minutes at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille to push the score to 30-24.
The game was still up in the air until well after the allocated 80 minutes as Fiji pushed for a winning try.
All of the Pacific were behind Fiji as the only Pacific island nation in the Top 8 to become the first tier-two team to reach the semi-finals since the game went professional after the 1995 World Cup.
Fans would be proud of this Flying Fijian side who lost to Portugal by one point in their last match and, like England, changed their head coach only months out from the World Cup.
Head Coach Simon Raiwalui deserves credit for strengthening his team’s foundations, while still managing to overcome logistical obstacles that their English counterparts would never know and could barely conceive.
Fiji scored tries through number eight Viliame Mata, prop Peni Ravai and flyhalf Vilimoni Botitu. Fiji missed three relatively simple shots at goal that were missed, and conceded unforced errors that eased the pressure on England.
England’s players were largely written off after losing to Fiji for the first time in a World Cup warm-up match six weeks ago.
A campaign containing an unfortunate loss to Wales, a storied win over Australia and a third appearance in the quarterfinals after 1987 and 2007 — will still be celebrated back home in Fiji by its rugby-mad fans, who had to get up in the small hours of the morning to watch the game.
The Flying Fijians handed England their first loss to a Tier 2 rugby nation in a historical 30-22 defeat at Twickenham stadium in their final RWC warm up match six weeks ago.
England have taken advantage of a kind draw to reach the semis without having played any team in the top five of the world ranking.
England will play defending champions South Africa. All the quarterfinals have been close contests with South Africa edging out the hosts by one point.
It will be England’s sixth World Cup semi-final – five of those six have ended in the final.
England: Smith; May, Marchant, Tuilagi, Daly; Farrell (capt), Mitchell; Genge, George, Cole, Itoje, Chessum, Lawes, Curry, Earl.
Replacements: Dan, Marler, Sinckler, Martin, Vunipola, Care, Ford, Lawrence.
Fiji: Droasese; Habosi, Nayacalevu (capt), Tuisova, Radradra; Botitu, Lomani; Mawi, Ikanivere, Tagi, Nasilasila, Tuisue, Tagitagivalu, Botia, Mata.
Replacements: Matavesi, Ravai, Doge, Derenalagi, Miramira, Kuruvoli, Masi, Maqala.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistants: Nic Berry (Australia), Pierre Brousset (France)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)