Rugby World Cup: Lomu warns England – beware of Fiji
The Pacific Island nations are ready to spring a surprise in England, says Tongan All Black legend
Rugby legend Jonah Lomu has warned England that they underestimate Fiji at their peril ahead of this evening's clash at Twickenham. The World Cup hosts face the Pacific Islanders in the tournament's opener and England are strong favourites to kick off their campaign with a victory.
But Fiji, dwarfed by England in terms of player number and financial resources if not size, have arguably their strongest ever squad at a World Cup, and history shows that they are more than capable of giving the so-called big boys a fright. In the inaugural World Cup in 1987, they reached the quarter-finals and ran France close before tiring in the last 20 minutes. But the advent of professionalism has improved that facet of their game and, allied to their size, strength and ball skills, Fiji are the proverbial banana skin.
Wales slipped up in the 2007 World Cup, losing their group game 38-34 and with it their chance of reaching the quarter-final, and the Fijians almost caused the shock of the tournament in the last eight against South Africa. With 15 minutes to go the game was locked at 20-20 with Fiji in control, and it required a stirring team talk from Springbok captain John Smit to galvanise his team to go on and win the match - and ultimately the World Cup.
Lomu is of Tongan descent (who caused a shock of their own in 2011 by beating France in the group stage) and the giant former All Black wing believes that one of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa will cause another surprise this time around. "Everyone is talking about the usual suspects in terms of who are going to win the tournament - the New Zealands, the Englands, the Irelands, the Wales," Lomu said. "The problem is they forget about the Polynesian South Pacific Island boys and those guys have a game or two that will upset a team somewhere along the line."
Acknowledging that England, cheered on by a capacity Twickenham crowd of 80,000, are favourites given their superior scrum, Lomu believes Fiji will look to get an early score and put the hosts under pressure in front of their expectant fans. "Somewhere along the line they're going to knock over a big team and it could be England. The majority of their players, 80 per cent of them or so, they play in Europe," said Lomu. "They're not intimidated in terms of playing against these guys because they play against them week in week out. If you give them a sniff that they have a chance, it could be a long day at the office for the England team."
England last met Fiji in 2012, and coasted to a 54-12 victory at Twickenham. There was nothing at stake on that occasion, however, but the English will look to meet the fast and furious Fijians head on. “England are ready to go,” said scrum-half Ben Youngs, who will win his 50th cap this evening. "In training this week there has been a real edge and intensity about us. Not nervousness, just excitement. If we continue to build emotionally... I've no doubt we'll come out of the blocks on Friday absolutely flying."