Planet Rugby

Preview: England v Fiji

09th November 2012 07:55

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Home debut: Alex Goode

The next chapter in England's journey starts now. Facing Fiji however is no easy warm-up match.

New faces and young blood might have been England's excuse back in February, but there is a certain level of expectation ahead of the November Internationals.

There will be three news caps on Saturday, all with little Premiership experience but with glowing reports from their club coaches.

The gradual conversion of Tom Youngs from a centre to hooker appears to be finally complete. Criticised for his throwing abilities, his completion average remains at around 85%, good enough for Test rugby. Combine that with his abilities as a scrummager and a weapon in the loose, and Youngs is a potent threat.

For part of Saturday he will be paired with Mako Vunipola, the young Saracen who has dazzled Graham Rowntree in training and whose power is an asset that England cannot ignore.

The final debutant is Joe Launchbury. Sidelined for much of last season, the athletic back row forward can also cover the second row and appears to be the complete package. Are they good enough for international level, or are England taking Fiji a touch lightly?

Elsewhere, it is a case of needs must. Chris Ashton's suspension denies him the opportunity to end his run of nine matches without a try. The loss of Dylan Hartley has thrust Youngs into the starting shirt. Jonathan Joseph's ankle has not recovered in time, nor has Alex Corbisiero's knee. Losing Ben Foden, a strong option for England both on the wing and at full-back, is arguably the greatest loss of all.

However, this England side still has enormous potential. Competition at scrum-half between Danny Care and Ben Youngs has not been this strong since the years of Matt Dawson and Kyran Bracken. Toby Flood is in fine form for Leicester, as are Dan Cole and Chris Robshaw, giving England the spine they need to beat the best sides in the world.

Fiji might not be one of those sides, but they do have some outstanding talent. Many names will be familiar to England, with Premiership stars such as Sireli Naqelevuki, Vereniki Goneva, Josh Matavesi and Akapusi Qera all set to be involved at Twickenham.

The 16 uncapped players in their squad highlight Fiji's current phase of rebuilding, plus their limited training time, late call ups and alarming lack of footwear ahead of Saturday's clash at Twickenham are likely to hinder their preparations.

Fiji's mixture of both home and foreign-based players saw them run Scotland close back in June in Suva, but taking on England away from home will be step into the deep end for Fiji's new players.

Developing new leaders is also essential given that captain Deacon Manu will be 36 by 2015, so this month's matches represent a huge opportunity for players such as fly-half Jonetani Ralulu, second row Leone Nakarawa and Exeter's Matavesi to become the core of this Fiji side going forward. It all starts at Twickenham.

Ones to watch:

For England: With a world-class operator in Dylan Hartley sidelined, all eyes will be on Tom Youngs on his England debut. Expected to start, the Leicester man has enormous potential but doubts have been raised in recent weeks about his temperament in big matches. The Fiji game is an ideal opportunity to take in a packed Twickenham Stadium and hit his targets at the lineout. Eyes will also be on Alex Goode at full-back, after the Saracen beat Mike Brown to the starting spot. Goode's ability to play as a second receiver eases the creative pressure on Toby Flood and Brad Barritt, so expect to find him in the thick of the action.

For Fiji: Despite originally turning down the opportunity to play for Fiji during the November Internationals, Akapusi Qera met up with the squad earlier in the week and should start against England on Saturday. Gradually gaining iconic status in the Aviva Premiership, Qera's work ethic, defence and ability to break the line have made him a fan favourite at Kingsholm. Alongside Qera will be the attacking threat of Vereniki Goneva. The Leicester winger is making a good fist of replacing Alesana Tuilagi so far, drawing defenders and also scoring a couple of tries himself.

Head-to-head: A confrontation between two juggernauts will see Manu Tuilagi and Sireli Naqelevuki line up against each other at Twickenham, ensuring lots of big collisions and line breaks from both players. Elsewhere young Joe Marler gets to make a first start against Fiji captain Deacon Manu - two players at opposite ends of their careers but who will both be filled with pride running out in front of a sell-out crowd.

Recent results:

1999: England won 45-24 at Twickenham

1991: England won 28-12 in Suva

1989: England won 58-23 at Twickenham

1988: England won 25-12 in Suva

Prediction: All the odds are against Fiji but England are not quite a fully-firing cohesive unit just yet. This should be open. England by 22.

The teams:

England: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Danny Care, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Tom Palmer, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Joe Marler.

Replacements: 16 David Paice, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Joe Launchbury, 19 Tom Wood, 20 Ben Youngs, 21 Owen Farrell, 22 Mike Brown.

Fiji: 15 Simeli Koniferedi, 14 Samu Wara, 13 Vereniki Goneva, 12 Sireli Naqelevuki, 11 Watisoni Votu, 10 Metuisela Talebula, 9 Nicola Matawalu, 8 Akapusi Qera 7 Malaki Ravulo, 6 Api Naikatani, 5 Apisolame Ratuniyarawa, 4 Leone Nakawara, 3 Deacon Manu, 2 Viliame Veikoso, 1 Ratu Makutu.
Replacements: 16 Seremaia Naureure, 17 Setafano Samoca, 18 Manasa Saulo, 19 Sekonaia Kalou, 20 Iliesa Ratuva, 21 Kelemedi Bola, 22 Josh Matavesi, 23 Ravai Fatiaki.

Date: Saturday, November 10

Kick-off: 14:30 (GMT)

Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)

Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa),Marius Mitrea (Italy)

Television match official: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)

by Ben Coles
@bencoles_

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