Saints star Lawes braced for early Fiji onslaught

Courtney Lawes (centre) is ready for England's World Cup opener against Fiji
Courtney Lawes (centre) is ready for England's World Cup opener against Fiji

Saints star Courtney Lawes insists England are braced to survive an early onslaught from Fiji out of the expectation that the Islanders will be vulnerable when Friday’s World Cup opener nears its conclusion.

Twickenham will provide the setting for a fascinating showdown between the hosts, who are second favourites behind New Zealand to lift the Webb Ellis Cup, and a team with the potential to claim at least one major scalp in an epic Pool A that also features Wales and Australia.

Fiji are a genuine threat with gifted trio Vereniki Goneva, Nemani Nadolo and Niko Matawalu providing the stardust in a well-prepared squad that has been hailed internally as the finest in the nation’s history.

One potential weakness, however, is the lack of conditioning witnessed against Canada nine days ago when the Pacific Nations Cup champions were playing their first game in a month. It is a shortcoming that has not gone unnoticed by England.

“Fiji are among the most physical teams in the world, especially in the first half,” Lawes said.

“But they tire quicker than other teams - you can’t be that fast and that powerful and sustain it.

“We have to ride the early storm, make sure we keep up with them physically in the early collisions. Hopefully our gameplan will tell towards the end.”

The belief that England can pull clear in the final quarter was echoed by head coach Stuart Lancaster, who also highlighted the scrum as a source of Red Rose superiority, particularly when Fiji’s replacement front row arrives from the bench.

“These games take 80 minutes. If we can play for the full 80... Fiji haven’t played against a northern hemisphere team for a while,” Lancaster said.

“We have to make sure we use our effectiveness in the scrum for the full 80 minutes because obviously they will have to make their substitutions in that area too.

“We certainly see that as an area we can go at that them, along with lineout drive and maul.”

Fiji have worked hard at giving themselves a fighting chance against England, Wales and Australia, adding defensive structure and set-piece stability to the vast array of attacking talent that is their hallmark.

Leading the Red Rose defence against the agile yet powerful Islanders will be Lawes, a second row who 2003 World Cup winner Ben Kay has said is feared by opponents because of his bone-jarring hits.

“I don’t mind a tackle. We’ve got no problems with Fiji being physical, every team is physical these days. There are no pushovers in international rugby,” Lawes said.

“We always put our bodies on the line and especially at a home World Cup. People wouldn’t expect anything less than us.

“We’ll stick to our gameplan. We can’t be loose and start chucking the ball around because that’s exactly what Fiji want.

“Fiji have very big, athletic players. They’ve been given structure, so it will be a brilliant challenge and a great way to kick the tournament off.”

Lawes, a veteran of the disastrous 2011 World Cup, hopes to be at his destructive best on the pitch while using his experience to deal with the expectations that surround the competition.

“It’s not my first World Cup, although this one is at home. It’s big, but then any World Cup is big. I have a fair few caps now and I know not to get too carried away,” Lawes said.

“You have to be thinking clearly in stressful conditions, so I’m trying to add to the team that way - by keeping everyone composed and not allowing things to get too heated.

“We know what’s coming and we need to stick to what we want to do on the pitch.”