England’s build-up to the Rugby World Cup has provided more questions than answers and they round off their on-field preparations against Fiji on Saturday.
The Twickenham crowd will expect a performance, but last weekend’s 29-10 defeat to Ireland was the latest example of Steve Borthwick’s side passing up opportunities to throw the ball around, with the coach clearly in favour of a risk-free, forward-based gameplan.
Opponents Fiji were game in their 34-17 defeat to France and seem to be growing in confidence as they prepare to face out-of-sorts duo Wales and Australia and improving Georgia at the World Cup.
They have never beaten England, but are far more balanced under Vern Cotter. However, their issues at the set-piece could see England gain a confidence-boosting victory.
It is a testament to England’s issues that they have selected a side close to the one that could take on Argentina at the World Cup. George Ford stays at 10 in place of the suspended Owen Farrell and partners late call-up Alex Mitchell, who will hope to put some pace on the ball.
Courtney Lawes captains the team from the blind-side on the occasion of his 100th cap, with Jack Willis back in the team at seven and Ben Earl moving to number eight to cover for the absence of the suspended Billy Vunipola.
With hooker Jamie George being wrapped in cotton wool, there is a first start for Theo Dan, who will need to front up and answer the questions about his physicality.
Fiji have selected a strong matchday 23, with skipper Waisea Naycalevu set to partner Semi Radradra in the centres, while Sam Matavesi starts at hooker as part of a blockbuster pack.
There is also real hope around their half-backs, with Frank Lomani and Caleb Muntz showing signs that they have the ball-handling, kicking skills and decision-making nous to move their team around the field.
England winning margin 6-10 points @ 9/2
The Red Rose have put more than 50 points on Fiji in two of the last three meetings, but that looks unlikely on Saturday.
Borthwick’s back-line is still to come anywhere close to clicking under new attack boss Richard Wigglesworth and Ford’s job is likely to be to move his team around the field, with the lack of a second receiver in the backs limiting opportunities to throw the ball around.
Fiji have their foibles, notably at the set-piece. However, the decision to give the country a Super Rugby franchise has benefitted their domestic players, who have also latched on to the added professionalism injected by their overseas-based colleagues.
They gave France a real game last weekend and with England expected to try and grind the result out, they are unlikely to run away with the victory.
Selestino Ravutaumada anytime try scorer @ 2/1
A player to watch for the Fijians is Selestino Ravutaumada, who scored three tries for the Drua in Super Rugby.
The 23-year-old is 6ft and 15 stone of athleticism and skill and could cause Jonny May all sorts of issues on England’s left edge.
Ravutaumada could be his country’s next superstar and scoring at Twickenham would further bolster his burgeoning reputation.