Fiji are preparing to “shock the world” against England in Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final with the Pacific islanders vowing to deliver the knockout blow and put Steve Borthwick’s side “to sleep”.
The match in Marseille will be only the third time Fiji have contested a World Cup quarter-final. But after a valiant showing in defeat by Wales and an impressive victory against Australia, they finished their pool stage campaign with a nervous win over Georgia and a shock loss to Portugal.
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Fiji claimed a first ever win over England at Twickenham in August, however, and tend to thrive when going into matches as the underdogs. The captain, Waisea Nayacalevu, admitted there was a palpable sense of relief at squeezing through to the quarter-finals with a losing bonus point against Portugal – knocking Eddie Jones’s Australia out in the process – and the forwards coach, Graham Dewes, believes Fiji can deliver a performance to make the world take note.
“We’ll go in with humility, respect our opponents and understand they’ll come harder as we beat them last time around,” said Dewes, who scored the winning try against Wales to book Fiji’s place in the 2007 quarter-finals – the last time the Pacific islanders reached this stage of the tournament. “I think Fiji on its day is capable of shocking the world. We’ve done it in the past, and if we stick to our gameplan, then we’ll do it again.
“On our day we can match anyone. Sometimes when we play tier-two nations, we drop our standards. We don’t plan to do it but things happen on the day. When we play the tier-one nations, if we get it right we put them to sleep.
“[Beating England] has given us a lot of confidence. We believe now that we can match tier-one nations, not just England and Australia but we also pushed Wales close. For us now, it is do or die. We go hard at the weekend or we are going home early.
Bedtime for Steve Borthwick? Fiji’s victory at Twickenham has given them confidence. Photograph: David Davies/PA
“We know there will be people, our family and friends, who will be supporting us come Sunday. They will be praying for us, they will be walking up the mountain to get reception to watch TV and support. We have the whole nation of Fiji behind us and that is really going to motivate us for the weekend.”
England, meanwhile, have come to consider that Twickenham defeat as a line in the sand moment, subsequently arriving in France and kickstarting their campaign with a defiant victory over Argentina despite Tom Curry’s early red card.
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Last time out against Samoa, however, England flattered to deceive for large parts and as a result, Borthwick is set to roll the dice by starting Marcus Smith at full-back for only the second time in his career and omitting Freddie Steward from the side. With Owen Farrell reverting to fly-half it is the same 10-15 playmaker axis as England fielded in their thumping 71-0 win over Chile but it is harsh on George Ford – arguably his side’s player of the tournament to date – and Steward, who has started 29 of their last 30 matches.
“Not much changes [with Marcus at full-back],” said Elliot Daly, who is set to return to the side after dropping out of the squad against Samoa. “Marcus probably shifts in a little bit more to be that second ball player. Obviously him being a 10, he wants to get his hands on the ball and organise on the outside. I think Fred’s been brilliant since his debut at the back and he’s come on leaps and bounds, the last year especially; the way he attacks, the way he sees space, the way he gets his hands on the ball when he needs to and makes good kicking decisions. I don’t think much changes, I think Marcus probably goes in a little bit closer and wants to be that proper second ball-player.”