England wary of opening-game slip

The Fiji Rugby World Cup squad singing a traditional song after a welcome ceremony outside England's Hampton Court Palace. The Fijians are looking to topple their hosts in their opening match.
The Fiji Rugby World Cup squad singing a traditional song after a welcome ceremony outside England's Hampton Court Palace. The Fijians are looking to topple their hosts in their opening match.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Fiji will pose a real threat to England in the opening match of this year's Rugby World Cup, warned the hosts' coach Stuart Lancaster.

Lancaster, who took up the post after Martin Johnson's calamitous stewardship of the 2011 campaign, is hoping his side do not fall prey on Friday at Twickenham to a similar upset that 2007 hosts France experienced. The latter went down in the opening game of that tournament to Argentina.

The quietly-spoken Englishman - who will turn 46 on Oct 9, the eve of their final pool game with minnows Uruguay - is certainly not taking the unpredictable but hugely-talented Pacific islanders lightly. This is despite the fact that, three years ago, his side had thrashed them 54-12.

"It is a big threat on Friday night," said Lancaster after naming an unchanged starting XV from the one who beat Six Nations champions Ireland in their final warm-up game. England are in a so-called "Pool of Death" with two-time champions Australia and Six Nations rivals Wales.

"They (Fiji) are going to be ready to play, we need to be ready. The trick is to make sure we are prepared mentally and physically but not to be overcome by the whole experience. There is a lot of experience in the team now and that should count on Friday.

"I don't think they have been beaten for a while. They are very strong and physical and they can brush off the best of defenders."

Fiji have stepped up the psychological pressure, sending out the message they expect to inflict a humiliating defeat on the hosts.

The Pacific islanders appear to have targeted England and the injury-hit Wales as their two must-win games, along with a third victory over Uruguay if they are to make the quarter-finals.

Coach John McKee has said that he will field his top side against England. Captain Akapusi Qera said it would be a "massive opportunity" to make the play-offs for only the third time after reaching the quarter-finals in 1987 and 2007.

"We've been picked for this squad for a reason, and that reason is to play against England and do all we can to topple them on their home ground," the Montpellier back-rower said.

"This World Cup in England is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We're not going to let it pass us by.

"Friday night is a massive, massive opportunity for Fiji."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2015, with the headline 'England wary of opening-game slip'. Print Edition | Subscribe