The first official match of the World Cup went pretty much according to the script; and funnily enough, might have been the most useful warm up game for England to prepare for a winning campaign. It was a far cry from a perfect opening gambit, certainly not a statement to the rest of the world, but there were several huge positives to come out of the game.
1. It's out of the way
This was a battle against a side with perennial pace and power; but unlike many Fiji sides, this one had top level club experience smattered throughout. There were Top 14, Aviva Premiership, Pro 12, and Super Rugby stars familiar with more than Champagne X-factor displays. They were more of a threat as a collective than is often the case against the islanders.
This was also a battle against the occasion. And it showed. This was an ideal game to get through an adrenaline dump and get some shakes out of the system. It will have acted as a physical wake up, as well as a mental one. There were lots of dropped balls that impeded consistency, but this is something that will rectify itself as the tournament progresses.
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2. Kicking success
One of the main arguments against George Ford as a starting Fly Half is his historically erratic kicking. This has improved markedly over the last year or so, but how would it hold up on the big stage. Perfectly. This will instill confidence in himself, the selectors, the team and the supporters. Not a bad way to start checking a World Cup wishlist.
His replacement Owen Farrell was also exemplary and will continue to push very hard for a starting berth in the pressure matches.
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You could argue that this match didn't achieve much in this regard on the field, but sheerly getting game time with what looks to be the preferred backline is hugely important. There might not be much evidence for this claim, but the centre pairing of Barritt and Joseph are potentially one match closer to clicking.
4. Mike Brown
For a long while the former Mr Angry was the standard bearer for the team, constantly putting in high show stealing performances and awe inspiring solidarity. Then he got injured. And his club form dipped. To win the World Cup we need the spine of the team to be making a mark, and he did this in spades against Fiji.
Solid as ever, he was also incisive, creative, strong in the contact, and two tries to his name. He is a big match performer, and from now on in they are all big matches. Having him reach his best, inspired form will lead the rest forward from the back.
5. The Lineout
Geoff Parling's inclusion and familiarity with Tom Youngs paid dividends with cleaner ball from the lineout than has been seen for England recently. The result was the textbook maul formation for the first try to put the hosts 10-0 ahead.
Joe Launchbury also looked energetic and physical coming off the bench. Having a player like that able to impact a game will make England a more dangerous side come the hour mark.
6. The Bonus Point Try
In a group like this one every point matters, and we came out with the full set by the skin of our teeth. Fiji are perfectly capable of restricting the other sides to three tries or less so this could still be seen as decisive factor come the end of the group stages.
Although Billy Vunipola may not have been aware of its importance to his side: "I didn't know that bonus points counted in the World Cup. " He will certainly know the value of him hitting form.
Ben Morgan wasn't his usual self in this match (perfectly understandable) and having Big Billy gain momentum off the bench will be beneficial for both of them. It's also good to see Billy making a head down charge, rather than looking for the offload.
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