Marcus Smith is now viewed as a “world class” option at full-back by England after Kevin Sinfield was blown away by his defensive heroics against Fiji.

England are hopeful that Smith will be passed fit for Saturday’s World Cup semi-final against South Africa after he was placed on modified training alongside Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi, Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes and Dan Cole.

The converted fly-half ended the last-eight victory over Fiji on Sunday with a fat upper lip and bandage around his head after he was the victim of a dangerous tackle by wing Vinaya Habosi, forcing him to depart for an HIA which he passed.

Once again he is competing with Freddie Steward for the number 15 jersey and, after two starts in the position, Sinfield sees a player who has the bravery to match his attacking brilliance.

“We’d all agree he’s a world class 10, but last weekend I felt he was a world class 15 as well,” England’s defence coach said

“You’ve got to remember this guys has played around 100, 120 minutes as a full-back in Test rugby so far.

“What he’s done on the training field for us has been outstanding. You’re blown away by what he does now that he’s being given more time and space.

“If there was any doubt how brave and courageous he is then you saw it with your own eyes. The bloke got his face smashed in and threw his body into tackles.

“The guys are in full admiration for him – he’s just got his face smashed all over the place yet he wants the ball. He’s just a brave guy.

“And not just because he’s physically tough and brave, because to be put on a world stage in a quarter-final and deliver what he delivered was an absolute credit to him. What a great kid.”

Steward was dropped from the 23 against Fiji altogether and now England face the choice of reverting to his high ball and positional expertise or rolling the dice by retaining Smith in the hope he will provide a cutting edge.

South Africa possess a far smarter kicking game that could expose Smith’s inexperience at full-back, pointing to Steward’s likely return when Steve Borthwick names his team on Thursday.

“I’ve worked with Fred for some time now and thankfully I’ve not had to have many of these conversations where I’m trying to pick him up,” Sinfield said.

“Clearly he was disappointed, as anyone would be, missing out on a quarter-final, but he’s responded as we’d expect him to.

“He is a great lad, you know what he’s about, he works incredibly hard at his game, he cares and he is unbelievable full-back too.

“We are in a pretty fortunate position where we have three world class 10s and two world class full-backs.

“Our team has changed every game throughout the World Cup and Steve selects the team he thinks it will give us the best chance of winning that game.

“Just because Fred wasn’t selected last week doesn’t mean he does anything wrong, he has actually done a lot of great things and a lot of things right, but Steve and the coaching team thought it was the right thing to go with Marcus against Fiji.”

Eddie Jones has committed his future to coaching Australia and again denied speculation linking him with a return to Japan.

Australia crashed out of the Rugby World Cup at the group stage for the first time after defeats to Fiji and Wales, but the former England coach insists he has no plans to move.

“I’m staying mate,” he told reporters in Australia. “I’ve always been committed to Australian rugby, I want to leave it in a better place, and that’s still the job.

“It’s not absolutely my decision. We play in a game where the coach doesn’t decide how long they stay.

“We’ve got a review going forward and we’ll see what happens at the end of the review.”

Jones, who took over from Dave Rennie in January a month after being sacked by England, said he had “no idea” where the story came from about him speaking to Japan about a coaching role.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone, mate,” he said.

Rugby Australia has announced an independent review into the World Cup performance, but Jones believes his decision to select a young team will pay dividends when Australia hosts the next World Cup in 2027.

“I went to the World Cup, came in (with) a short period of time, had to make a decision on the team, made a decision we needed to go with youth,” he said.

“And whilst, the results at the World Cup weren’t the results we wanted, I think I’ve left the Australian team in a great position to go on to 2027.

“We had the courage to go with a younger squad and I think this squad is going to stand Australia in good stead. We have the nucleus of a really good team.”

He continued: “We just weren’t good enough, mate. You’ve just got to watch the quarter-finals on the weekend.

“We’re not at that level and we can’t pretend to be at that level, but can we be at that level by 2027? Yes we can.”

Owen Farrell steered England into the semi-finals of the World Cup after Steve Borthwick’s side faced down a Fiji fightback in a dramatic 30-24 victory in Marseille.

England appeared to be cruising into the next round when they led 24-10 heading into the final quarter thanks to tries by Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant and Farrell’s pinpoint kicking at Stade Velodrome.

But their foundations shook when Peni Ravai went over in the 65th minute and a nerve-jangling finish beckoned as Vilimoni Botitu crossed to level the score soon after.

Farrell landed a drop-goal to usher in the unbearably tense closing minutes and with Fiji throwing the kitchen sink at them, they picked off a loose pass and sped downfield through Joe Marchant.

Farrell landed his fifth penalty and despite one final assault from the Islanders, the white wall held firm to secure a semi-final against either France or South Africa.

England are the only home union side to reach the last four following the demise of Wales and Ireland in this weekend’s quarter-finals but they rode their luck at times during a frenzied second half having played smart rugby before the interval.

The result avenged their first ever loss to Fiji in August and by reaching the penultimate stage of the World Cup they have surpassed expectations given they entered the tournament on the back of five defeats in six Tests.

There was no sign of the fireworks to come as England surged ahead, capitalising on their opponents’ indiscipline to score three points through Farrell before a second penalty produced a line-out drive that ended with Tuilagi diving over in the left corner.

Roared on by fans, Marcus Smith ran from deep but was swallowed up by the Islanders and the drama continued with Maro Itoje intercepting and racing into space before Tom Curry made a dangerously low tackle on Josua Tuisova.

Curry’s offence allowed Frank Lomani to kick three points but England replied with waves of attacks and their tempo stretched Fiji’s defence, allowing Marchant to jink over.

Fiji wing Vinaya Habosi was sent to the sin-bin for a high hit on Smith, who departed for an HIA, but his side were the next over in a breathless first half when Viliame Mata scooped up a loose ball, dummied and strolled over.

Itoje and Courtney Lawes were battered as the Islanders made their presence felt in defence but England continued to force penalties that allowed Farrell to land six more points.

Fiji infringed freely as their opponents racked up time in possession, but two wayward Farrell kicks after he had fired a smart chip into space provided a route out of difficulty and they started moving the ball with menace until Lawes turned them over.

The second half was more ragged and England’s play was frantic at times, lacking the control evident earlier, but the scoreboard kept ticking over as Farrell extended their lead to14 points.

Fiji lost the ball time and again, preventing them from building any momentum, but they faced a muscular defence.

Finally they broke through, Ravai concluding a sustained assault and when the conversion was added, the deficit was down to a converted try.

The tide had turned and when a Simione Kuruvoli penalty struck the upright, it fell to Fiji and they pounded away at the favourites until Isoa Nasilasila forced a gap and Botitu touched down.

Farrell replied with his drop-goal and when Marchant broke clear to relieve the pressure of a Fiji attack, sprinting 60 metres downfield, a penalty was forced that Farrell rifled over.

The Islander fell short with one final attack and when the final whistle sounded they collapsed to the floor in disappointment.

Ben Earl insists England have noted their absence from composite Rugby World Cup teams as they look to prove their critics wrong in Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final against Fiji.

England completed their group campaign with a full set of four victories yet few are expecting them to challenge for South Africa’s global crown despite being placed in the easier side of the draw.

Earl has been Steve Borthwick’s star performer in France and would be pushing hard for inclusion in teams comprising the World Cup’s best players, but the general snub has not been overlooked by the squad.

“You see a lot of stuff on social media about world XVs and stuff and there’s probably not a huge amount of representation from England in that regard,” the Saracens back row said.

“A lot of people don’t think there’s that many of us in there. You always want to be in those conversations. In terms of voicing concerns about it? Not really. We know a lot of our team have been in those positions before.

“It’s just an opinion, but at the same time we know the quality we’ve got. We know that on any given day, when some of the players we have got on our team turn up we become a very, very hard team to beat.

“These are the stages that we want to be involved in. You find out a lot about your team-mates, find out a lot about yourself. We’ll be expecting big performances.

“We’ve been speaking a lot all week about it being time for our big game players to start turning up. We’ve all got a responsibility to do that.

“It’s kind of now or never. No one wants to be flying back to London on Monday morning, so we’re going to out there and perform our best and see what happens.”

Danny Care is among a number of senior players who could be making their final appearances for England and the veteran scrum-half admits there is no margin for error against Fiji, who stormed Twickenham 30-22 in August.

“It’s what you dream about, being involved in games like this. It’s the chance of a lifetime,” Care said.

“We’re fully focused on Fiji and we have to be because we know how dangerous Fiji are. If we’re slightly off it, then we will be going home. That’s the stark reality of it.

“We know the significance of this game and how much it means to us, how much it means to the people back home. We’re dying to get out there.

“For someone like me, you know this could be the last time I put on an England shirt so I’m going to give it my all.

“Any time I play for England, it means everything. But when you know you’re kind of coming to the end of your journey in that shirt you want to do yourself proud and your family proud.

“I want to make it worthwhile that I’ve been away for five months and you don’t do that by coming home after the quarter-final. We’re really excited to get out there and show what we can do.”

England and Fiji clash for the eighth time when they meet in the World Cup quarter-finals in Marseille on Sunday with Steve Borthwick’s men strong favourites to reach the last-four stage of the tournament.

Here, the PA news agency examines five talking points heading into the Stade Velodrome showdown.

Moment of truth

Who are the real England? Outside title contenders who have rebuilt during an impressive group stage? Or fading heavyweights ready to be exposed by the first high-quality opposition they face? These questions have pursued them throughout the World Cup and only against a dangerous Fiji side will the answer come. It is England’s defining moment – win and they advance into the semi-finals with their reputations intact, lose and a four-year cycle of disappointment and upheaval meets a gloomy conclusion.

Last dance

Aside from the prize of a semi-final against France or South Africa, England are motivated by the understanding that for up to a third of the squad this World Cup is their last chance to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy. Jonny May and Courtney Lawes have stated as much, while other long-standing servants to the English game such as Danny Care, Ben Youngs, Dan Cole and Manu Tuilagi are approaching the end of their international odysseys. Borthwick will begin rebuilding at the next Six Nations, but the head coach will be hoping his veterans have one big knockout phase left in them.

Pantomime villains

If England reach the semi-finals they will have done so at the expense of the darlings of the World Cup, ending the fairy tale scenario of a Pacific Islands team appearing in the penultimate stage for the first time. Number eight Billy Vunipola has acknowledged his side are “public enemy number one” but points out that historical anti-English sentiment means they are well versed in fighting against popular opinion. On the favourites’ side is that the vast numbers of Red Rose fans who have followed their team in France will be out in force again, turning the Stade Velodrome into a home venue.

War on the floor

England’s headline selections have been Marcus Smith ousting Freddie Steward at full-back and Owen Farrell replacing George Ford at fly-half, but the back row is expected to be the key battleground. Fiji are breakdown masters led by Levani Botia, who is exceptional over the ball, and Borthwick has noted their ability to win penalties in this area of the game. While England’s response will be a team effort, Lawes, Tom Curry and Ben Earl have crucial roles to play on the floor knowing the Islanders must not be allowed to gain a foothold there.

Can lightening strike twice?

Fiji are a significant step up in opposition for England, who were drawn in the kindest of the four World Cup groups. Fresh in the minds is their 30-22 victory at Twickenham in August, their first ever win against the Red Rose and a highly impressive performance. They grew progressively worse during the group phase, culminating in a shock defeat by Portugal, but one of the greatest and best prepared teams in Fiji’s history has the capacity to deliver a special moment for a rugby-mad nation of 925,000 people.

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.”

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.

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.”

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.”

Jonathan Humphreys insists the pressure is not off Wales after a thrilling victory over Fiji increased hopes of a fourth successive Rugby World Cup quarter-final appearance.

Wales’ 32-26 success came after they repelled a ferocious Fiji fightback that saw them score two tries during the last seven minutes.

And had Fiji’s star centre Semi Radradra not spilled possession with the line at his mercy just seconds from time, then it could have been a totally different outcome.

Wales face remaining Pool C games against Portugal, Australia and Georgia, and the knockout phase is now undoubtedly in sight following a statement win.

“The big one for us is Portugal. We did well in a lot of areas, but there is still massive room for growth for us,” Wales assistant coach and forwards specialist Humphreys said.

“We are not thinking anywhere close to what possibly could be. We know what’s definitely going to be, and that is Portugal in a few days’ time.

“It is not an easy game, it is their first game in this tournament. They are a tough side to play against, they are very skilful.

“We don’t see this as pressure off. It is just the next game and we have to perform.”

Wales made more than 240 tackles in the game, with 71 of those attributed to just three players – lock Will Rowlands, prop Gareth Thomas and captain Jac Morgan.

And that punishing defensive effort ultimately thwarted Fiji’s attacking brilliance in a game that produced eight tries and no shortage of high-octane entertainment.

Humphreys added: “You can’t make that many tackles if you are not fit and have the ability to get up and go again. The mindset and fitness was excellent.

“I don’t think many people had probably given us a shot at that game, but we had a belief.

“We knew to an extent what Fiji were going to bring, but it is still so hard to stop them. Their footwork is so late and so good, so we knew it was going to be an unbelievably tough game.

“But to get through it with a bonus point is massive for us.

“It was a hell of a relief at the end, but the next thing is Portugal. We need to play better, we need to be more accurate. That is the next focus for us.”

Rowlands was at the forefront, making 27 tackles and missing none as he delivered a performance that defined Wales’ unflinching attitude in defence.

“He is an exceptional athlete,” Humphreys said. “It is very rare you get such a big man who is such an athlete with such a big engine.

“He has turned into a very important player for us. He came to rugby late – he was early 20s when he started playing rugby. He is brilliant around the group.”

Wales held their nerve in a frantic and pulsating Rugby World Cup clash to beat Fiji 32-26 and put themselves on course for the quarter-finals.

Fiji were expected to provide ferocious opposition in Bordeaux, and they did not disappoint, but Wales ultimately claimed a fourth successive World Cup win against them in nerve-shredding fashion.

It was tense throughout, especially when Fiji scored twice in the last seven minutes and Wales had to dig deep during a frenzied finale when Fiji centre Semi Radradra knocked on close to the line in the game’s last play.

Warren Gatland’s team ultimately prevailed through tries from Josh Adams, George North, Louis Rees-Zammit and Elliot Dee, with fly-half Dan Biggar adding two penalties and three conversions in a bonus-point success watched by Welsh Rugby Union patron the Prince of Wales.

Fiji claimed tries by captain Waisea Nayacalevu, flanker Lekima Tagitagivalu, plus replacements Josua Tuisova and Mesake Doge – Frank Lomani converted two and Teti Tela also added a conversion – yet Wales gained the victory they craved ahead of remaining Pool C appointments with Portugal, Australia and Georgia.

Gatland masterminded two semi-final appearances during his previous reign as Wales head coach, and his players produced easily their best performance this year.

Biggar steered the ship impressively, while Wales’ defence often came up trumps at key moments, even somehow withholding Fiji late on after they were matched blow for blow.

Taulupe Faletau returned to Wales’ starting line-up after a calf muscle injury that sidelined him for the entire tournament warm-up schedule.

Fiji, meanwhile, showed one enforced change from the side that beat England at Twickenham last month with fly-half Tela replacing an injured Caleb Muntz.

Wales made an outstanding start, taking an 8-0 lead in as many minutes through a Biggar penalty and Adams try.

Biggar, playing in his final World Cup before retiring from Test rugby, kicked a long-range penalty before Wales carved open the Fiji defence.

North’s powerful midfield surge was taken on by scrum-half Gareth Davies before possession quickly went wide and Adams – top try-scorer at the 2019 World Cup in Japan – finished in style.

Fiji responded strongly, though, and Nayacalevu scored a 13th-minute try that Lomani converted.

It was a breathless contest in stamina-sapping heat, and Wales fell behind just four minutes later after Radradra broke clear and his pass to Tagitagivalu gave him an easy run-in.

Lomani’s conversion took Fiji 14-8 ahead, ringing alarm bells for Wales, before Biggar cut the gap by landing a second penalty.

And Wales regained the lead after relentless pressure reaped its reward as Nick Tompkins sent North over between the posts, with Biggar’s conversion securing an 18-14 advantage midway through the second quarter.

Fiji thought they had gone back in front just before the break, but Saracens prop Eroni Mawi was denied a try following a lengthy review of his dive for the line.

Davies was then on the receiving end of a high tackle by Selestino Ravutaumada and departed for a head injury assessment to be replaced by Tomos Williams. Wing Ravutaumada conceded a penalty but escaped further punishment from referee Matthew Carley as Wales held a four-point interval advantage.

Davies returned for the second period, and Biggar missed a 30-metre penalty chance before they conjured a third try in an unlikely fashion.

Sharp work by Tompkins unlocked Fiji’s defence, and skipper and flanker Jac Morgan provided the assist by kicking into space and Rees-Zammit finished off, with Biggar’s conversion making it 25-14.

Fiji camped deep inside Wales’ 22 entering the final quarter, and it took sustained last-ditch defending to keep them out.

But the game looked to have drifted away from Fiji when Tagitagivalu was yellow-carded and Wales scored before he had barely left the pitch.

The forwards drove a short-range lineout, and Dee claimed a touchdown that Biggar converted.

However, Wales then lost replacement prop Corey Domachowski to the sin-bin for a technical infringement and Fiji had the final say through tries from Tuisova and Doge, but Gatland’s men held on.

Wales centre George North will join an elite Rugby World Cup club when he runs out against opening opponents Fiji on Sunday.

It will be North’s fourth tournament, a feat achieved by only four other Welshmen in Gethin Jenkins, Alun Wyn Jones, Gareth Thomas and Stephen Jones.

And, at 31, he is showing no sign of slowing down, remaining a pivotal figure in head coach Warren Gatland’s plans.

With 114 caps, North is the most experienced Wales player on show at France 2023, underlining his consistency, durability and quality.

“I hoped that I would get to one (World Cup), for sure. To represent your country is huge, but to play at a World Cup is wicked,” he said.

“I am still fighting and competing, and find myself at number four.

“I guess it’s just a kudos to myself and shows all the work you put in is worth it to get to a fourth. I am still enjoying it.”

North is enthused by Wales’ current World Cup crop, with the squad featuring 16 tournament debutants, including co-captains Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake.

He also has three other cap centurions for company in Dan Biggar, Taulupe Faletau and Leigh Halfpenny as Wales look to make an impact in France.

It will be Gatland’s fourth World Cup at the Wales helm, having previously masterminded two semi-final appearances, and North has been there every step of the way.

He also believes Gatland has firmly put his stamp on the squad, nine months back into his second stint as Wales boss and following a difficult Six Nations campaign last season.

“The vibe has been really good,” North added. “For a lot of the boys it is their first World Cup, so they are going into the unknown and they are excited.

“I think everyone has just bought into it straight off, and I think that comes from ‘Gats’ when he set the tone with his last message from the Six Nations to the first day in World Cup camp – ‘this is how we are going to do it, this is how I want to do it. You either want to be in, or you don’t’.

“Some of the (training) sessions in Switzerland were brutal, probably some of the hardest I have ever done. The same in Turkey.

“We came off the paddock and we had knocked lumps out of each other for 40-odd minutes in 46 degrees. It’s all about his way of building that resilience, building that robustness into the squad.

“He pretty much said to us after we played France in the last round of the Six Nations that the World Cup was going to be the hardest thing you will ever do. He was not lying.”

Wales find themselves in a World Cup pool alongside three of their opponents from Japan four years ago – Fiji, Australia and Georgia – with North underlining the importance of a strong start.

“We need to start with a win on Sunday, pure and simple,” he said.

“The squad is in a really good place. Everyone understands where we are, everyone is well drilled on how we want to go about our work.

“The training camps we have been on have been brutal, absolutely brutal. The default setting is never give in, keep moving, keep going, keep going, keep going.”

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