Steve Borthwick has work to do – England v Fiji talking points

By Sports Desk August 25, 2023

England face Fiji at Twickenham on Saturday in a send-off for the World Cup that is fraught with danger given the Islanders have toppled Tonga, Japan and Samoa in recent weeks.

Here the PA news agency examines five talking points ahead of the final Summer Nations Series match.

Crisis management

England have yet to set foot in France but already events are conspiring against them. While the disciplinary lapses that have seen Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola banned for dangerous tackles are problems of their own making, the growing number of injuries are a cruel misfortune. Anthony Watson joins Jack van Poortvliet in being ruled out of the tournament before a ball is kicked and there are significant concerns over Tom Curry and Elliot Daly, both of whom face a race against time to be fit for the crucial opener against Argentina on September 9.

Jonny set to answer May day call

Watson’s calf injury that was sustained against Ireland has resulted in a World Cup reprieve for Jonny May, who Steve Borthwick all-but confirmed will be plugging the gap in the 33-man squad. Injury and repeated bouts of Covid-19 have conspired against May in recent times, but the ultra-professional England wing is capable of scoring spectacular tries out of thin air and will bring the kick-chase pressure and aerial threat that was missing in Dublin.

Keep your heads

It is a message that had been drummed into the players – no more cards. In the last four Tests England have been shown three reds and four yellows in an alarming collapse in discipline headlined by Farrell and Vunipola being sent off by the bunker review system. Borthwick is confident their respective four and two-game bans can be absorbed by the depth in their positions, but knows that an underperforming team that has lost four of their last five games must keep 15 players on the pitch if they are to halt the slide.

100 not out

Courtney Lawes becomes only the fifth man to make a century of Test appearances for England when he leads Borthwick’s side out at Twickenham. The achievement is a victory for resilience in the face of persistent injuries and the willingness to evolve as a player. Lawes’ calling card early in his career was as a defensive hitman whose bone jarring tackles were a favourite on highlights reels, but he has since added more layers including a smart carrying game based on footwork, line-out expertise and better handling. Having set out on his 14-year international odyssey as a second-row, he is now the epitome of the modern blindside flanker.

Fiji on the rise

Given Japan’s dispiriting slump since lighting up the 2019 World Cup, Fiji have emerged as disruptors with the heavyweights in their sights. Both Wales and Australia will be eyeing their Pool C encounters nervously as the Islanders, bolstered by the success of their Fijian Drua side in Super Rugby, have added a strong scrum, greater cohesion and superior conditioning to the magical attacking skills that are their bread and butter. Waisea Nayacalevu and Semi Radradra have been paired together in the centres against England, taking star billing in a rotated side that will ask questions at Twickenham even if short of full strength.

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