England survived a huge scare to make it five wins out of five at this World Cup, reach the last four and leave themselves two games from glory, as the last home nation standing in France.
Owen Farrell’s late drop goal and penalty clinched a successful return to the towering arena where the national team launched their campaign here with a thumping win over Argentina.
Since then, they comfortably dispatched Japan, thrashed Chile and edged out heroic Samoa, before this fifth victory for Steve Borthwick’s men, who just about ensured lightning didn’t strike twice after their shock defeat against Fiji in late August.
There appeared to be trouble written all over this fixture, against opponents blessed with an array of brilliant individuals and the confidence that they could match or trump their richer rivals.
But England were largely in command until a major final-quarter wobble. Knowing that it was win or bust, this was a day when many of their leading players rose to the occasion, not least Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes – who were as influential as they had been in this southern city five weeks earlier.
England beat Fiji 30-24 to progress to the Rugby World cup semi-finals where they will face either South Africa or France
Captain Owen Farrell was one of England’s stars as he kicked 20 points against Fiji
Fiji were dejected at full-time as they fell agonisingly short of producing a sensational comeback
England head coach Steve Borthwick has guided his side to a Rugby World Cup semi-final on his first time in the tournament
The Sweet Chariot will now rumble on to Paris, for a semi-final on Saturday night against hosts France or South Africa. Neither of those superpowers will lose too much sleep about taking on an England team who still appear to be some way short of their exalted level, but Borthwick will spend a week in the capital city meticulously planning an ambush using all his renowned attention to detail.
In a one-off contest, the head coach will try to convince his players that they shock their way into the final. To have any chance of doing so, they must improve on the sort of muscular performance under pressure that they delivered here.
Fiji are a massive side and they threw the proverbial kitchen sink around but were met by resolute resistance at the breakdown and on the gainline, at least until the chaotic closing stages when Simon Raiwalui’s side scored two tries to draw level.
There had been so much focus in the build-up on the inclusion of Owen Farrell at fly-half in place of George Ford and the England fans in the stands made their feelings known by loudly booing when the captain’s name was read out.
But he contributed in full to a spirited defensive effort in the face of a savage blitz and there weren’t too many boos when the game was won via his boot. All the neutrals roared on Fiji to the end but they couldn’t quite reach the semis for the first time.
This result means that England have lived up to pre-tournament expectations and averts the threat of a messy inquest. Their continued progress in the weaker half of the draw is bound to aggravate Irish fans still coming to terms with their team’s demise at the hands of New Zealand, but there is nothing weak about what lies ahead now. There will be no hand-outs from here on in.
The match started in ominous fashion from an English perspective as it took Fiji’s renowned breakdown limpet, Levani Botia, just 90 seconds after the kick-off to claim his first turnover penalty.
Not long after, his team-mate, wing Vinaya Habosi, repeated the feat wide on the right, to terminate another England attack. It wasn’t long before Courtney Lawes responded in kind. The day of the jackal had started in earnest.
Manu Tuilagi drove over the line to score England’s first try of the afternoon in Marseille
Joe Marchant increased England’s lead as he broke FIji’s resolve to score England’s second try
Owen Farrell’s 11th-minute penalty opened the scoring and three minutes later, Borthwick’s side had their first try. From an attacking lineout on the left and a strong pack drive, England had advantage and struck, with Manu Tuilagi blasting to the left corner and twisting past a tackle to score.
Gradually, the Pacific islanders began to assert themselves and weaponise their fearsome physicality. From their first meaningful spell of pressure, Frank Lomani was unable to hit the target with a penalty, but he landed his second shot to reduce the deficit to five points.
Farrell scored a key penalty at the end of the game to take the match away from Fiji
Back came England and they claimed their second try in fine style. A raid down the left saw Elliot Daly go clear, before Marcus Smith was hurt by a clash of heads with Habosi – which earned the Fijian winger a yellow card, but not an upgrade to red. Ellis Genge and Lawes thundered off deep in the opposition 22 before Joe Marchant skipped past a flailing defender and stretched to touch down. Farrell’s conversion made it 15-3.
But the underdogs would not go quietly. They rallied and struck again, while down to 14 men. Another missed penalty by Lomani did not cost his side as they pounced from the ensuing lineout.
A series of sledgehammer carries cracked open the Red Rose defence, Josua Tuisova blasted through and from a ruck, Viliame Mata burst into space and clear to score. Lomani converted.
While England kept playing good rugby, Fiji kept using their power to telling effect. Just after the half-hour, Itoje was smashed backwards in a tackle and, seconds later, Lawes was dumped into touch, which nearly sparked a scrap between the simmering teams.
But England coped with the onslaught and pulled further ahead through two more Farrell penalties. Right on half-time, Itoje and Ben Earl combined to repel a Fiji attack superbly and protect the 21-10 lead going into the break.
All hell broke loose in the final quarter as Peni Ravai crashed over in the 64th minute
Fiji’s Vilimoni Botitu set-up a tense finish to the encounter after surging over the try line late to level the game
Fiji’s Simione Kuruvoli scored crucial conversions but also missed some vital kicks for his side
The second half was initially disjointed but after another Farrell penalty, all hell broke loose in the final quarter. In the 64th minute, Peni Ravai crashed over after Fiji captain Waisea Nayacalevu had been stopped on the left and Simione Kuruvoli converted to make it a one-score game again.
High drama turned into a crisis for England four minutes later when a midfield break-out led to a try for Vilimoni Botitu and Kuruvoli’s extras levelled the scores at 24-24.
But England kept their heads and found a way through, as they battered forward to set up Farrell’s drop goal and kept up the pressure to earn another penalty which the skipper duly dispatched.
Still, it wasn’t all done and dusted. Fiji kept coming in the hunt for a winning try and it wasn’t until 85 minutes were on the clock that Lawes and Earl combined for the penalty which sealed this tense win and unleashed scenes of English relief and elation on and off the field. Paris, here they come.