Steve Borthwick hails ‘written off’ players as England book World Cup semi-final

By Sports Desk October 15, 2023

England head coach Steve Borthwick hailed his players’ composure and resilience after they repelled a thrilling Fiji fightback to book a place in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals.

Fiji tied the game after scoring two converted tries in four second-half minutes, but skipper Owen Farrell kicked a late drop-goal and penalty to see England home 30-24.

“For large parts of the game we controlled it,” Borthwick said.

“There was a spell when Fiji scored back-to-back tries which Fiji can do well, probably better than anyone else in the world, but we stayed composed and got back ahead on the scoreboard.

“The players were written off. A lot of people said we wouldn’t get out of the pool. We got out of the pool, now we got out of the quarter-final.

“Now these players have an opportunity in Paris in the semi-final. I am sure we will be written off again, but these players rise to the occasion.”

Farrell scored 20 points and led from the front on his return as starting fly-half, and Borthwick added: “I think he is a fantastic leader. He is the kind of leader I know I would want to follow on to the pitch.

“I think he is a brilliant player who thrives in the contest, and especially in these big occasions he just gets even better.”

England find themselves one win away from a second successive World Cup final appearance, and while they will start as clear outsiders to progress further next Saturday, Borthwick’s team made it five successive victories in the tournament.

“Today, for large parts we controlled the game and then had a couple of thunderbolts that hit the team in quick succession,” he added.

“I think you’ve seen in a (recent) period of time the England team weren’t coming back to win that game, and this team did.

“We talked about scenarios and how you handle different situations. I think the players are drawing on all of those experiences now.”

England controlled the closing minutes of an enthralling encounter in exemplary fashion as Fiji threatened to complete a recovery act they almost pulled off against Wales last month.

Farrell said: “I thought the team was brilliant in those moments. We managed to wrestle our way back into the game and we got in the right parts of the field.

“We managed to take our chances. Not just that, but we backed it up with a big defensive performance on the back of that.

“There are a lot of good teams left in this competition.

“We have got to have a massive amount of respect for what other teams can do – that is what this stage is like. You saw from Fiji today how much power and skill they had, and they could turn it on in the blink of eye.

“We will prepare the way we have been doing over the past five-six weeks we have been here. We will enjoy getting to a big occasion and a big week, and we will attack it.”

Fiji bowed out, but not before producing further evidence of their game-breaking and try-scoring brilliance that troubled Wales and pushed England – who they beat for the first time ever at Twickenham in August – to the limit in Marseille.

“I think it is just the start of something special,” Fiji head coach Simon Raiwalui said. “They wanted to create a new identity, and I think they have done that.

“I am a bit speechless at the moment. I couldn’t be prouder of the boys.

“We’ve worked so hard from week one – 15 weeks now – and they have shown where we belong on the world stage.”

Footage emerged on social media of fans fighting in the stands at Stade Velodrome after England scored their opening try in the first half.

World Rugby has confirmed that a small number of fans were ejected from the stadium as a result.

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