Sam Matavesi has been named on the bench for Fiji’s World Cup quarter-final against England, despite his father Sireli dying earlier in the week.

Matavesi left the Islanders’ camp in Marseille to attend the funeral in Cornwall, where Sireli had settled after a tour by the Fiji Barbarians in the 1980s, but returned on Thursday.

The Northampton hooker is set to appear in the second half of Sunday’s Stade Veldrome clash, with head coach Simon Raiwalui confident he is ready for the occasion.

“We had a setback during the week with Samuel Matavesi’s father passing away. He came back in this morning. He was adamant that he wanted to be here,” Raiwalui said.

“He’s a fantastic young man, very good on his details, so there are no worries there. It’s just a matter of him grieving, but I have no doubt that he will be ready to play.”

Fiji will have the support of neutrals willing a team from the Pacific Islands to qualify for the semi-finals for the first time and Raiwalui insists they are not yet ready to leave the World Cup.

“It’s massive for our country. We came to this tournament to succeed, we got through the first part and we want to continue,” he said.

“We are a nation of 900,000 people that lives and breathes rugby, and I don’t know how many Fijians worldwide.

“We had massive support from the French, from the people who come to the ground. We really want to enjoy the occasion and show our best rugby.”

“First and foremost I’m proud to be a Fijian but I’m also proud of the so-called developing nations, pushing for the global game, how we can improve it and get more opportunities, how we break that barrier down.

“This World Cup has been a fantastic example of other teams coming in and playing fantastic rugby and putting on a spectacle for the world. We are proud of where we come from and we want to embrace that.”

England’s World Cup bolter Harry Brook admits he is still trying to “figure out the format” after being asked to fill a Ben Stokes-shaped gap in the one-day side.

Just six weeks ago Brook was making plans to watch the tournament from home after being left out of the provisional squad, but things have moved fast since then.

He replaced Jason Roy just before the deadline after an eye-catching response to being left out and, when Stokes suffered a hip injury shortly after arriving in India, Brook found himself promoted from reserve batter to first-choice for games against New Zealand and Bangladesh.

Stokes looks set to miss out again on Sunday, when they face Jonathan Trott’s Afghanistan in Delhi, but was running more freely in training at the Arun Jaitley Stadium two days out.

That would give Brook another chance to make the most of his unexpected opportunity in a version of the game that has taken a back seat in the Yorkshire batter’s formative years.

Already a rising star in the Test arena and a T20 world champion, he has played a grand total of 23 List A fixtures, with eight of those on the international stage.

With the advent of The Hundred relegating the Metro Bank Cup’s status, he is representative of a generation of upcoming English talent with limited 50-over experience and finds himself in the unusual position of learning the ropes at the highest possible level.

“I’m very inexperienced in this format. It does make a big difference having not played it, I think,” he said.

“Hopefully I can pick it up fairly quickly after the last couple of games and, if I get another go, then try and make a big score.

“You’ve just got to try to construct an innings better than I have done in the games I’ve played, just keep on trying to learn and figure out the format.”

Brook has made bright starts in both Ahmedabad and Dharamshala only to be dismissed for 25 and 20.

The numbers tell a story – with his 45 runs comprising 34 in boundaries and coming off just 31 balls. In a side famed for its relentless commitment to attack, there is a suspicion that the 24-year-old may have gone too hard, too soon.

“Everybody’s just said ‘you’ve got a lot more time than you think’,” he said.

“It’s almost approaching the start of your innings like a Test match and then, the longer you’re in, the easier it gets and the less the ball’s moving around.

“I’ve played so much T20 cricket over the last couple of years, if you see a ball go above your eyeline your eyes light up and you want to smack it. But I’ll just give myself a bit more time and make a big one soon.”

England are taking Stokes’ fitness on a day-by-day basis, but the next game against an in-form South Africa is likely to be a greater priority than Afghanistan. Either way, there is no question that a place awaits as soon as he gets a green light.

“Obviously Stokesy has to come back in. He’s one of the best players to ever play for England,” was Brook’s assessment. “Whether it’s me or someone else missing out, he’s 100 per cent coming back in the team.”

Chris Woakes was absent from Friday’s floodlit training session due to sickness, with Gus Atkinson and David Willey standing by.

The pacy Atkinson has an even thinner track record in 50-over cricket than Brook, playing just five times in the format and taking just six wickets, but has impressed England with his direct, attacking style and has the pace to trouble top batters.

Marcus Smith has been backed to deliver on the biggest night of his career after England gambled by picking the Harlequins magician at full-back for Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final against Fiji.

Smith will make only his second professional start in the number 15 jersey and, while he has also banked a number of influential cameos as a replacement, he remains a converted fly-half who is unproven in the position at the highest level.

England believe he will continue to thrive in his new role, providing a cutting edge in attack and a second ball-playing option, and have sacrificed the ultra dependable Freddie Steward to accommodate him.

Another seismic selection sees Owen Farrell replace George Ford at fly-half even though the Sale ringmaster has excelled at the World Cup, delivering man-of-the-match displays against Argentina and Japan.

All eyes will be on Smith, however, in the hope that he can reproduce the fireworks seen in the group match against Chile when he ran in two tries.

Harlequins team-mate Joe Marler has known the 24-year-old since he arrived at Twickenham Stoop as a teenager and quickly realised he was a special talent.

“Marcus is a big-match player. I’m really happy for him to get his opportunity to start again in a World Cup. He’ll thrive,” Marler said.

“He’s shown it off the bench in the moments we’ve needed him and I hope he can do that from the start.

“At the club he was confident early on, even to the point where I turn around and say ‘I’m going to have to say something to this guy, he’s gobbing off at me’. I’ve been at the club 10 years and he’s gobbing off at me.

“I was like ‘he’s a jumped up, entitled, little, private school kid’. And then when you realise how good he is at rugby and why he’s doing what he’s doing, I was like ‘I’m going to listen to him because he’s going to get us into positions where we can win more rugby games because he knows what he’s talking about’.

“He’s done it consistently at club level and now it’s about now doing it consistently at international level. What better place to do that than starting in the quarter-final?”

Farrell will dovetail with Smith in attack with the pair each operating at first and second receiver at different times. England’s captain has noted his team-mate’s appetite to take on the opposition.

“I’m impressed with how much Marcus wants to get after it – how much he wants the ball, how much he wants to make a difference,” Farrell said.

“From what I’ve seen so far the bigger the occasion, the more he wants to do that. It’s not like Marcus hasn’t played in big games – he’s won the Premierships.

“He wants to have a big impact on the game and so far he’s been doing that. I see it being no different this weekend.”

England field eight survivors from the starting XV that took on South Africa in the World Cup final four years ago and it could be a final appearance for several members of Borthwick’s squad – providing additional motivation against Fiji.

“There are definitely a number of us that won’t play for England again after this tournament,” Marler said.

“We have been together a number of years, we have built friendships and bonds. We want to give this our all and finish on a high.

“You never know when your last game is. You’ve got to make the most of what you can.”

England have rolled the dice for Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final against Fiji by naming Marcus Smith at full-back in place of the jettisoned Freddie Steward.

Steward has been an automatic pick since making his Test debut in July 2021 but the high-ball master is omitted from the 23 entirely as Steve Borthwick instead opts for the greater attacking threat supplied by Smith.

It will be the converted fly-half’s second start in the number 15 jersey having starred against Chile during the group phase, but Fiji are a significant step up in opposition even if they lack a top-class kicking game.

Among Smith’s duties will be acting as a second playmaker to captain Owen Farrell, who has been picked at fly-half ahead of George Ford for England’s biggest game since the 2019 World Cup final.

It is another seismic selection call from Borthwick given that Ford was man of the match in the Pool D victories over Argentina and Japan and is the form player in the position.

The Sale ringmaster is confined to a supporting role from the bench as Borthwick delivers a show of faith in his skipper, who will be making his third appearance at the World Cup.

England and Fiji will meet for only the ninth time when they clash in Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final at Stade Velodrome.

Here, the PA news agency recalls four memorable encounters between the rivals.

2023 – Twickenham: England 22 Fiji 30

England endured one of the darkest days in their history when they lost to Fiji for the first time ever in what was also their first defeat to a current tier two nation. The Islanders fully deserved their historic moment, playing smart and entertaining rugby.

2015 – Twickenham: England 35 Fiji 11

It took the determination of full-back Mike Brown, who ran in two tries, to end Fiji’s uprising before England pulled away in the final quarter. A nervy start to the home World Cup was a signpost of the calamity to come for Stuart Lancaster’s side.

1999 – Twickenham: England 45 Fiji 24

Fiji were only outscored 4-3 on the try count with the boot of Jonny Wilkinson doing most of the damage in the form of a 23-point haul. England rested some of their bigger names for this World Cup play-off and were made to work for their win.

1991 – Suva: Fiji 12 England 28

England’s second of just two visits to the Fijian capital almost finished in disaster. Will Carling was at the helm as the Red Rose entered the final quarter, deadlocked at 12-12 before rallying through tries by Rory Underwood and Rob Andrew.

England made unbeaten progress through the Rugby World Cup group stage to secure a quarter-final against Fiji at Stade Velodrome on Sunday.

It will be their ninth appearance in the knockout phase having missed out on qualification just once before and here the PA news agency examines their last five outings at this stage of the tournament.

2019: Oita, Japan – England 40 Australia 16

What should have been a major hurdle was anything but as a clueless Wallabies side lacking any discernible game plan were outscored four tries to one, with England prop Kyle Sinckler touching down in memorable fashion.

2011: Auckland, New Zealand – England 12 France 19

Martin Johnson’s England paid the price for allowing France to romp 16 points ahead and, while they fought back, it was not enough to put a World Cup beset by off-field controversy out of its misery.

2007: Marseille, France – England 12 Australia 10

Jonny Wilkinson kicked four penalties but this victory was founded on the dominance of an England scrum that ground the Wallabies into submission, placing a dismal group campaign into the rear-view mirror.

2003: Brisbane, Australia – England 28 Wales 17

England were outscored three tries to one and had to rely on Wilkinson’s boot after a daredevil Wales side had moved 10-3 ahead, threatening an upset until Sir Clive Woodward’s men staggered over the finishing line.

1999: Paris, France – England 21 South Africa 44

A freakish performance from Jannie De Beer sent England crashing to defeat after South Africa’s second-choice fly-half behind the injured Henry Honiball landed a record five drop goals in the space of 31 minutes.

Australia manager Graham Arnold reiterated Ange Postecoglou’s message for his side to beat England for “the kids and the nation” ahead of the first ever meeting between the countries at Wembley.

Arnold brought in Spurs boss Postecoglou and his fellow former Australia head coach Guus Hiddink in a bid to inspire the Socceroos ahead of Friday’s friendly in London.

Australia are underdogs going into the encounter, having only beaten England once in seven meetings – a 3-1 triumph at Upton Park in 2003 – and sitting 23 spots below their fourth-placed hosts in the FIFA world rankings, but Arnold says his side will only have victory on their minds when they take the pitch.

He said: “The speeches that Ange said yesterday were very similar about what we’ve been saying for years with doing it for the kids in Australia, the nation and your family and people who are close by and the supporters.

“I know one thing is that they (the players) will run until they drop, the energy will be there and they’ll put in the performance of their lives.

“I have got a special relationship with both (Postecoglou and Hiddink). I’ve known Ange for 40 odd years, I’ve played and coached against him, worked with him and we’ve had a great connection for years.

“With Guus, he’s pretty much a mentor to me and like a brother, a father. I’ve got to be careful with what I say because he’s not that old but he’s always been a great man to me and I worked with him during the 2006 World Cup as his assistant.

“We aim to win. We’re not going out there to lose or draw the game, we’re going out there to win the game.

“It’s the culture that we bring. We’ve seen the Socceroos and the Matildas (Australia women’s team) bring the nation together and this is not my team, it’s the nation’s team.”

While Australia are looking to make history at Wembley, Arnold highlighted some of the challenges he says they face trying to grow the game back home.

Despite the successful co-hosting of the Women’s World Cup this summer, where the Matildas got to the semi-finals, Arnold says the infrastructure and support they receive pales in comparison to other sports Down Under, or that England enjoy.

“We don’t get anywhere near the help and resources (of Australian rules football),” Arnold said.

“We see the Prime Minister and the government say they love coming out to watch the Socceroos and Matildas with scarves on but they must lose them when they go home.

“We don’t have a home of football. Whether you believe that or not, we don’t have a home.

“When the Socceroos come to Sydney to train, we have to go to a rugby league field where they remove the posts and put soccer posts up. That’s the truth.

“We are the highest participated sport at grassroots (in Australia). The last four days England have been at St George’s Park and they come down to (Wembley) where they are inspired and have a culture, we don’t have anything like that.

“After the World Cup I said ‘hopefully this will make things change’ and that government funding will help inspire the kid’s lives and fulfil their dreams.”

Australia’s most recent meeting with England saw the home side claim a 2-1 win at the Stadium of Light in 2016, when an 18-year-old Marcus Rashford because the youngest player to score on his England debut.

Roy Hodgson was in charge of England for that match but Arnold, who took charge in 2018, is looking forward to pitting his wits against the present incumbent Gareth Southgate.

Arnold said: “England are a fantastic team and Gareth Southgate is a great coach, a wonderful man and I look forward to seeing him tomorrow night.

“We are very appreciative of the invitation to play here and we’re looking forward to the match.”

Black armbands will be worn and a period of silence observed at the England v Australia friendly to remember the innocent victims of the conflict in Israel and Palestine.

The Football Association has confirmed its plans to pay tribute, having come under pressure to illuminate the Wembley arch in the colours of the Israeli flag following attacks by Hamas militants over the weekend which were followed by Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

“On Friday evening, we will remember the innocent victims of the devastating events in Israel and Palestine,” the FA said in a statement.

“Our thoughts are with them, and their families and friends in England and Australia and with all the communities who are affected by this ongoing conflict. We stand for humanity and an end to the death, violence, fear and suffering.

“England and Australia players will wear black armbands during their match at Wembley Stadium and there will also be a period of silence held before kick-off.”

The statement added that flags, replica kits and other representations of nationality not linked to England or Australia will not be permitted inside Wembley on Friday night.

Harry Maguire admits he cannot keep just playing once a month for Manchester United but remains confident of winning back his place and helping Erik ten Hag’s team climb the table.

It has been a bumpy ride since the 30-year-old starred in England’s run to the Euro 2020 final, with the defender falling down the pecking order at Old Trafford and then losing the captaincy.

A widely-discussed summer move to West Ham did not materialise and settled Maguire remained at a club where he is trying to get his career back on track with next summer’s Euros looming large.

Gareth Southgate has been a staunch supporter of the centre-back throughout his ups and downs but admitted to concerns over his level of involvement, which the ex-United skipper is determined to improve.

 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Harry Maguire (@harrymaguire93)

“I have belief in my ability and what I have done in my career as every player should,” Maguire said.

 

“Every player who is on the bench should believe they should be starting, otherwise they wouldn’t be playing at a high level. I am no different.

“Listen, it’s been tough. I want to play games. I want to feel important to the club and I want to feel important to the rest of the team.

“At the moment I haven’t been playing anywhere near as much as I’d like. It’s the bottom line of it.

“I’ve just got to make sure I am ready to take the opportunities when they come along.”

Asked when gametime becomes an issue and, given Euro 2024 is coming up, whether that could be sooner rather than later, said: “Yeah, of course.

“I mean, I’m not going to sit here all my life and play once every month and if it carries on then I’m sure myself and the club will sit down and have a chat about things.

“But, honestly, at the moment I’m fully focused on two games for England, two big games.

“Then I’m fully focused on fighting and trying to get back my place at Manchester United and helping the team climb up the league to where we should be.”

England face Australia in a Wembley friendly on Friday before attention turns to the crunch Euro 2024 qualifier against Italy.

 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Harry Maguire (@harrymaguire93)

 

Maguire has kept his England place despite his struggles to break his way into Ten Hag’s line-up, making his first Premier League start of the campaign in Saturday’s 2-1 comeback win against Brentford.

“It’s not my decision whether I start the next game or not,” said the defender, who provided the assist for Scott McTominay’s winner. “I’m unsure on that. I’m sure in a couple of weeks I’ll go back and find out.

“Listen, if you look back on my last 15 to 20 starts for club and country, I would be happy to sit here and say ‘I’m really happy with my performances’.

“My record under this manager speaks for itself. I haven’t started as many games as I’d like, but my win percentage when I’ve played is ridiculously high.

“And of course there’s times when I can do more and times when I can improve and help the team, but, yeah, I’m just wanting to help the team.

“I’m wanting to help the team get out of this position that we’re in at the moment and hopefully we can do that in the coming weeks.”

Maguire benefitted from a string of defensive absentees as he made just his ninth Premier League start since Ten Hag arrived.

The Dutchman has always spoken positively about the defender in public, saying in August that he “has the abilities to be a top-class centre-back” and must “fight for his place”.

 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Harry Maguire (@harrymaguire93)

 

“I can only do what I’ve been doing in terms of when I’ve come into the team, bringing positive performances,” Maguire said.

“I’ve started two games this season and come on in a few off the bench, but, yeah, keep working hard in training.

“The manager can only watch training and make his decision from training and the games when I get the opportunity to play.

“I’ll keep working hard, I’ll keep pushing. I have great belief in myself.”

England forward Ollie Watkins is so averse to the public spotlight that he no longer goes shopping, but knows his profile is only going to get bigger.

The Aston Villa striker has earned a recall to the England squad for forthcoming games against Australia and Italy after his season burst into life with four goals in two games at the end of last month.

Watkins, who was not included in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the September games, does not feel comfortable walking around his local supermarket.

 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Ollie Watkins (@olliewatkins)

 

 

But he also accepts that if he keeps banging in the goals for Villa and England, he is only going to get more attention.

“I go under the radar, maybe,” the 27-year-old admitted. “I’m not talked about enough profile-wise. But I know I have been producing on the pitch since Unai Emery came in. But I do go under the radar.

“I don’t know if it’s me being at Villa. You get some players that are just likeable and out there. I’m not really too fussed about that.

“I just like playing football. Maybe a lot of people said to me I need to push my profile. But I am happy with what I am doing on the pitch and that’s all that matters to me.

“The bigger you are, the more you are in the spotlight. It’s not that I don’t want that, it is doing my job. If I am doing my job and playing well, my profile will raise naturally.

“I remember when I moved from Brentford to Villa, I used to just go and shop in Sainsbury’s normal at Brentford.

“I came to try to do it at Villa and I couldn’t. I came home and I was fuming and I said to my missus I am never going out again, you will have to do the shop.

“Since then I don’t do the shopping, I don’t get ‘bothered’ but a lot of people want photos.

“I had my earphones in and people were like – they take two looks – is that him? When I see that people have clocked me, normally I try to avoid (them). Not because I don’t want to interact with them…once one person asks for a photo then two or three do and it’s hard to do shopping.”

Watkins believes the arrival of Villa boss Emery last year was the catalyst for kick-starting his career.

“Definitely, under (Steven) Gerrard, I know he played me all the time – I’ve played under all managers – but I wasn’t really getting the best out of my game,” he said.

“That wasn’t down to him, I had just kind of fallen into a rut, but I feel like I have gone on a different path and really focused on being a striker.

“Before I was trying to do everything, trying to cross it and get on the end of my own cross and head it. Now I am just focused, being the main man.

“He put a lot of faith in me and gave me confidence to go out and perform, just focusing on scoring goals and helping the team.

“I definitely felt like, I came from Brentford, I scored a lot of goals and in my first year I did well and then I found I hit a little bit of a rut.

“It is hard. When you are in that rut, you don’t know where you are going to end up or what is going to happen.

“I didn’t see my career anywhere else but Villa but it was hard to try and get out of the rut when it wasn’t going great for me.”

Australia play England at Wembley on Friday night but former national team head coach Ange Postecoglou does not envisage football truly taking off in his home country like it dominates in his current residence.

Postecoglou has enjoyed an excellent start at Tottenham and they are joint-leaders of the Premier League after eight matches going into this month’s international break.

Optimism is rife at Spurs but their 58-year-old manager remains pessimistic about the state of football in Australia, despite his nation co-hosting a successful Women’s World Cup this summer where the Matildas finished fourth.

Postecoglou spent four years in charge of the Socceroos and – despite achieving plenty – he has given up hope of the sport cracking life Down Under with subtle digs aimed at governing body Football Australia ahead of Friday’s friendly clash in London.

Asked about his Asian Cup win on home soil in 2015, Postecoglou replied: “It didn’t make an impact back there and that was kind of my frustration.

“I don’t think that anything they can achieve… when you look at what the Matildas did at the World Cup, unbelievable but you still won’t see an influx of resources to the game. You won’t. I guarantee it.

“They’ll build stadiums and other codes will use them. I just don’t think the nation as a whole has that inside them to understand you can make an impact on the world of football but it requires a kind of nationalistic approach that I just don’t think Australians – at their core – are really interested in.

“There’s a couple of things. One of them is obviously the sporting landscape, where there’s some pretty strong codes there that have generationally dominated the landscape.

 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (@tottenhamhotspurstadium)

 

“There’s Aussie Rules, that’s the indigenous sport of Australia. It’s kind of unique to them and they take great pride in protecting as their code. The rugby codes dominate.

“It’s very hard for football to make an impact in that space and I guess then the flipside of that is just how global the sport of football is.

“If I can compare that to a country like Japan, who also have the tyranny of distance and baseball’s pretty strong, they plant a lot of resources into football and you can see that’s making an impact. I don’t see Australia down that road.”

Japan was Postecoglou’s next destination when he walked away from the Socceroos job after he helped his country qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

The ex-Yokohama boss had managed Australia at the 2014 edition, but his departure seven months out from the global showpiece was a surprise and at the time he described the job as “taking a toll” both personally and professionally.

Postecoglou has been involved in coaching since 1996 and while he has taken the Premier League by storm so far, he does not expect his time at Tottenham to change the landscape of football in Australia.

“I don’t. I don’t know and maybe that’s just me, not being cynical, but I gave up that fight,” he explained.

“It’s a much easier space for me to live in because I was so frustrated for so long. It was my biggest frustration. One of my major drivers for doing what I did was to do that – to change football in Australia and that’s the reason I left.

“I felt I hadn’t made an impact at all. That’s easier for me to deal with than to think maybe I still can now with what I’m doing. I just think I’d be disappointed, so I’d prefer to think it’s not going to happen.

“I walked away from a World Cup. We qualified and I walked away. The reason I walked away was I just didn’t enjoy what I was doing.

“It’s not just doing the job and winning games of football, it’s got to be a higher purpose. My higher purpose in Australia was to change the game. I just don’t think that will happen.

“It was the right decision for me (to leave), it was the right decision for where I saw the next stage of my career and if I didn’t make that decision at that time, if I had waited until after the World Cup, I’ve got no doubt I wouldn’t be sitting here now.”

Postecoglou replied no when asked if he would manage Australia again and laughed off talk of replacing England chief Gareth Southgate.

He added: “England? Oh, come on mate. They’ve got a fantastic manager and I’m eight games into a Tottenham career. That’s how I think.”

England have been watching footage of their calamitous defeat by Fiji in August as a reminder of what not to do in Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final.

Fiji stormed Twickenham 30-22 to claim their first ever victory over the red rose in eight meetings and defence coach Kevin Sinfield has been showing clips of the worst moments to the squad ahead of the rematch in Marseille.

To offset memories of the one the nation’s lowest ebbs, Sinfield has also been demonstrating to England how far they have successfully rebuilt come since that grim day.

“That match has been brought up this week. We would have been stupid not to because it was almost like a line in the sand, something for us to step forward from,” hooker Jamie George said.

“We learned a huge amount that week and we are a significantly better side on the back of it.

“We weren’t physical enough and some clips have been shown because it is a reminder we can’t be that team again, playing against a very, very good Fiji who are very dangerous when you give them what they want.

“Kev Sinfield said ‘I wasn’t sure about showing you this, but we can’t be this team again’.

“We are still hurting from performances like that, I still hurt from performances three years ago. You don’t like to be reminded of those things but if that can fuel the fire then why not?

“It has been received really well and the way we trained today (Wednesday) showed our intent is going to be very different, there was a bite to training.

“We probably got a few things wrong tactically during the week of that game but emotionally and physically we were off as well for whatever reason. It was us not being the England team we wanted to be.

“Fiji running riot at Twickenham and it’s been like ‘that can’t happen’ and then showing some positive clips of where we have come to now, how we have defended through the World Cup.”

Since that victory, the Islanders’ progress has been mixed with the narrowest of defeats to Wales and a victory over Australia, followed by an escape against Georgia and shock loss to Portugal.

They grew steadily worse as Pool C unfolded, perhaps in evidence of the pressure they are under to meet the expectations of a hopeful nation and at being cast as darlings of the World Cup.

England are significant favourites heading into the Stade Velodrome showdown but lightning could strike twice against one of the most naturally gifted teams in the tournament.

“I’m a fan of their work. I like how they have grown their set piece, everyone talks about Fiji and thinks about their offloading game, which they are fantastic at, they talk about the way they move the ball but they are a team that if you break it down are based around the set piece,” George said.

“They have big men in the pack who know what they are doing, they have played in top leagues for a long time. The way they have evolved their game is impressive and they deserve to be in this quarter-final.”

Reece Topley insisted he was just getting started on his “unfinished business” in World Cup cricket after blowing Bangladesh away with four wickets in Dharamshala.

Topley claimed four for 43 as England coasted to victory against the Tigers, making a big impression after being recalled to the side following defeat to New Zealand.

It was a welcome day in the sun for a 29-year-old who has had to endure more than his fair share of dark times due to a litany of injury problems that could easily have ended his career.

Five different stress fractures in his back left him sidelined for long periods and denied him the chance to push for a place in the triumphant 2019 campaign, while his luck got even worse on the eve of last year’s T20 tournament in Australia.

 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Reece Topley (@reecejwtopley)

 

The 6ft 7in left-armer had been lined up to play a key role with the ball, only to trip on a boundary sponge during a fielding drill and rupture ligaments in his left ankle. When England went on to lift the trophy at a packed MCG, it was hard for him not to imagine his own hands on the silverware.

Now he has a real chance to control his own story. With his body holding up well and his game in good order, things are finally falling into place.

“When I came out here I certainly felt like there was some sort of unfinished business with World Cups,” he said.

“Last year it was certainly an opportunity missed, I was bowling really well in the lead-up and then sort of had the rug pulled out from under my feet.

“The last-minute injury was very disappointing, but I’ve been wrapped up in cotton wool this time and it’s nice to be here. Hopefully there are more contributions because I don’t feel like I’ve sort of scratched the surface with World Cups.

“Obviously being injured and not being able to do what you are good at, what you love, is awful. Watching others take your wickets or score your runs is another horrible thing.

“But you have to ask yourself what are the choices? Do you sit around and feel sorry for yourself or do you just have to crack on and get yourself back to full fitness?”

England’s circuitous route around India sees them playing in eight different cities across nine group games – with Ahmedabad and Dharamashala already in the rearview and Delhi up next for Sunday’s game against Afghanistan.

The constant cycle of internal flights and coach transfers means rotation has been discussed, especially among the fast bowling department, but Topley has already missed enough games for a lifetime and has no desire to sit out.

He described his omission in favour of spinner Moeen Ali against New Zealand as a “take your medicine” situation, but is willing to be a workhorse if required as the competition unfolds.

“There’s a lot of chat about the schedule. To be honest, it’s one game every five days, it seems,” he said.

“I mean, county cricketers do much worse. If we play for Surrey, we’d be more tired. It’s not really an excuse for us. Sevens games is 70 overs maximum.

“In our changing room, we’ve all played county cricket, which can be quite a torrid time. You have to play a lot more regularly than this seven weeks, so I think everyone in our team can handle it pretty well.”

Jamie George says England will call upon all their big-game experience to overcome Fiji in Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final.

England have appeared in the last eight of the tournament in all but one of its editions – on home soil in 2015 – and reached the final four years ago when they lost 32-12 to South Africa in Yokohama.

Of that matchday 23, there are 15 survivors currently in Steve Borthwick’s squad who are continuing preparations for the Stade Velodrome showdown.

Fiji, meanwhile, are appearing in the knockout phase for only the third time and their first since 2007, placing a question mark over their ability to deliver when the pressure is on.

“We can’t shy away from the fact this is probably one of the biggest games we are ever going to play in,” Saracens hooker George said.

“We’ve got a lot of players who have been there and done that on some big stages. We’ve got players who have experience of a World Cup final and the latter stages of World Cups and some players who are playing in their fourth World Cup.

“We’ve got a great group of senior players who are very open and honest with the younger players who this could be intimidating for.

“But this is why we’re here. We want to play on the biggest stage, the quarter-final of a World Cup is exactly where we want to be. Next week want we to be in the semi-final and so on.

“These are exciting times and the more experienced players need to draw on their experiences and make sure everyone is in the right spirit going into the weekend.”

Simon Raiwalui’s men are regarded as the most complete Fiji team to have emerged from a nation of 925,000, even if their group campaign ended with a seismic upset by Portugal.

They have become less reliant on their historical strengths such as outrageous running skills and athletic offloads to become a force at the breakdown and the scrum.

Their line-out remains a recurring weakness, however, and this vulnerability will be targeted relentlessly by England with head coach Steve Borthwick and consultant coach George Kruis plotting their downfall.

“Fiji’s set piece as a whole has got better. Portugal targeted their line-out in particular and that was very interesting, particularly in how they went about it,” George said.

“We’ve got some complete line-out pigs in our team. George Kruis coming in, who is a complete nause and obviously Steve Borthwick – his father! – doing a lot.

“Their conversations together are not necessarily fascinating, but they are going to be coming up with a very good plan.

“We trust in that plan and we are going to try and put Fiji under a huge amount of pressure in that area. We trust the line-out pigs to be coming up with a good plan.”

Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham has raised the prospect of the game’s lawmakers examining whether audio between referees and VARs should be available live.

Miscommunication between VAR Darren England and referee Simon Hooper led to a Luis Diaz goal for Liverpool at Tottenham being wrongly disallowed last month, leading to further calls for such conversations to be played out in real time.

The incident caused huge controversy, with Reds manager Jurgen Klopp even calling for the match to be replayed.

Broadcasting the conversations between on-field officials and VARs live is currently prohibited under football’s laws.

Bullingham, who is a director at the International Football Association Board (IFAB) which has the power to change the game’s laws, said the organisation had discussed the subject but added: “Generally there is a split in the room over that, and quite often it is between the marketing and commercial people and the referees.

“Our point of view, from the marketing and commercial perspective, would normally be that transparency is a really good thing, and we want fans to have the maximum experience.”

Bullingham said an ongoing FIFA trial where referees announce and explain the outcome of an on-field review is a “step in the right direction” but added: “My personal point of view is I do think (live audio) will continue to be a question over time, because the greater transparency shows how difficult the referee’s job is, and it has worked in other sport.

“There is an understandable nervousness from others that the referee’s job is hard enough as it is. In a tournament you have referees with multiple languages, so it is not as straightforward as some might suggest.

“So I think we are taking a step in the right direction with announcing the decision and explaining why it has been reached. Let’s see if that leads to further progression.”

Bullingham’s Irish FA counterpart and fellow IFAB director Patrick Nelson spoke more cautiously on the VAR decision-making process, adding: “We just need to see more evidence on this at the moment.

“It’s interesting when we look at recent examples but we still need to remember that VAR as an entire concept is relatively in its infancy compared to the game of football and compared to IFAB. There is still more that we can learn.”

The PA news agency understands the IFAB is set to open up the trial of in-stadium announcements by referees beyond FIFA events to other interested competitions.

The IFAB may also look again at the wording of Principle 10 in the VAR protocol, which currently prevents VARs from revisiting a decision once play has restarted and meant the officials could not call play back after the Diaz error.

It could be updated to allow a decision to be revisited where a clear mistake has occurred, and where no significant action has taken place since play restarted.

Bullingham also said he was aware IFAB had been asked to consider widening the scope of VAR to rule on decisions such as corner kick and free-kick awards.

“I think we would be really reluctant to have a game that was stopped a lot more than it currently is, but that will be a proper discussion,” he added.

VAR interventions are currently limited to goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistaken identity.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.