By Lawrence White
LONDON (Reuters) -England slumped to a 30-22 loss against Fiji at Twickenham on Saturday to record their first-ever defeat by the visitors, leaving them in utter disarray ahead of the World Cup which kicks off next month in France.
England, who had not scored a try through their backs in nearly six hours going into the game, struck early through the recalled Jonny May in the left corner after strong runs by the heavyweight centre pair of Ollie Lawrence and Manu Tuilagi.
But the upbeat mood was short-lived as Fiji then ripped England apart in the middle period of the game, with tries for centre Waisea Nayacalevu and winger Vinaya Habosi as the Pacific Islanders found gaps everywhere they looked.
England as so often in recent games looked more threatening as they emptied the bench and threw caution to the wind, raising questions about their team selection and strategy as substitutes Marcus Smith and Joe Marchant scored late.
But winger Selestino Ravutaumada capped a scintillating display with a swerving run to send replacement Simione Kuruvoli over for the decisive score that sealed their victory and left England looking utterly broken.
“I am so proud of the boys. This win is for all the people back home in Fiji,” Ravutaumada said as Fijian supporters gathered in a corner of Twickenham sang and waved their national flags in celebration of their historic win.
England had set their fans’ expectations near zero with recent performances, losing four of their last five matches heading into Saturday, conceding an average of four tries per game, rarely scoring and riddled with injuries and suspensions.
With Oasis’s 1995 hit Wonderwall blaring out from the stadium speakers and George Ford reprising his role at fly half from when these sides last met in 2016, England looked stuck in the past.
Coach Steve Borthwick has tried to go back to basics after the chaos of the Eddie Jones era, but his straightjacket approach seems to have left the side uneasy in attack and vulnerable in defence, missing 27 tackles on Saturday.
Fiji meanwhile can look forward to a possible World Cup quarter-final or better if they can repeat Saturday’s mature performance at the tournament in France.
The dreadlocked Ravutaumada, playing in just his fourth test match, was the star and a fine example of how the creation of the Fijian Drua Super Rugby club side has improved the national team.
England had no answer as he repeatedly sidestepped through gaping holes before finding a team mate and Fiji on this form can dream of upsetting Wales in their opening World Cup game on Sept. 10 to repeat their famous 2007 win over the men in red.
England meanwhile have just two weeks to find some kind of cohesion before an opening fixture against the dangerous Argentina on Sept. 9.
(Reporting by Lawrence White; Editing by Ken Ferris)