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Van der Merwe's heroics silence the Twickenham masses

A try for the ages lights up a thrilling opening weekend of Six Nations rugby as Scotland, Ireland and France register away wins

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'I think we were nervous but who wouldn't be?' - Middleton on Red Roses

By PA
Claudia MacDonald of England celebrates after scoring a try during the Pool C Rugby World Cup 2021 New Zealand match between Fiji and England at Eden Park on October 08, 2022, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

England coach Simon Middleton insisted there is room for improvement despite his side’s emphatic 84-19 win over tournament debutants Fiji in their World Cup opener. The Red Roses assured themselves of a bonus point in the first half but they led only 24-14 at the interval before scoring 10 tries after the break.

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And Middleton believes Fiji’s first half performance served as a timely reminder that his team must discover their optimum level for the tasks that are to come.

Middleton told England Rugby’s official website: “One thing this has shown is that there are going to be absolutely no gimmes in this competition.

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“Fiji were outstanding in that first half, really compact and really physical. I think we were nervous but who wouldn’t be?

“It wasn’t like we were being pumped at half-time, we were still 24-14 up, but I think we would’ve hoped we’d done a few things a little bit better, but we did better in the second half for sure.”

Claudia MacDonald scored four tries and Amy Cokayne and Lydia Thompson two apiece, with Abbie Ward, Helena Rowland, Zoe Aldcroft, Abby Dow, Leanne Infante and Connie Powell also crossing in the Pool C opener.

Emily Scarratt kicked five of her conversion attempts, with Zoe Harrison booting two herself.

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The 84 points bettered England’s previous best of 82 in the competition, set against Kazakhstan in 2010.

England started brightly and after hooker Cokayne had crossed in the eighth minute, lock Ward (18) and winger MacDonald (27) had them in the clear before Fiji responded with a try of their own from Alowesi Nakoci (31).

Rowland crossed for England two minutes before half-time but Sesenieli Donu’s individual effort meant Fiji trailed by just 10 points at the interval.

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However, Middleton’s team dominated the second half at Eden Park.

Cokayne went over for a second time less than two minutes after the resumption, winger Thompson crossed twice (50 and 53) and MacDonald claimed three more tries (56, 70 and 76).

There were also scores for Aldcroft (45), winger Dow (59), reserve hooker Powell (74) and scrum-half Leanne Infante (65), before Fiji had the final say through Lavena Cavuru.

It represented a successful return for Dow, who broke her leg in April’s Women’s Six Nations campaign but made a rapid return to fitness and was named as a replacement for the tournament opener.

“We were out of our seats,” added Middleton.

“We’re so pleased for her, she’s had such a tough journey back but she’s worked tirelessly along with our medical department, in particular Emily Ross who has invested loads time into her. All of us, all the team-mates were absolutely thrilled for her.”

England’s second game of the competition takes place next Saturday against France, who opened their tournament with a 40-5 defeat of South Africa.

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