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Rugby World Cup: Lessons from England’s record 14-try win against Fiji

Claudia MacDonald scores a try
England have never scored more tries or points in a World Cup game than they did against Fiji

England’s Rugby World Cup campaign has begun in style.

The Red Roses claimed a record 84-19 win, scoring 14 tries against Fiji to shoot to the top of Pool C on the opening day.

The other two closest contenders for the crown, France and hosts New Zealand, also won on Saturday.

France beat South Africa 40-5 and New Zealand came from behind for a 41-17 victory against Australia.

Here are four things we learned from England’s opening win.

Kabeya can offer England something different

Following on from her stellar performance in England’s warm-up win against the United States, Sadia Kabeya was player of the match against Fiji.

Flanker Marlie Packer is a talismanic presence in England’s back row but 20-year-old Kabeya staked her claim on the sevens shirt with Red Roses starter Packer unavailable because of a minor foot injury.

Kabeya carried for more metres than any other England forward, racking up 71 in total, and beat five defenders.

“I think she offers something a bit different to Marlie Packer,” World Cup-winning captain Katy Daley-Mclean said on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast.

“Marlie Packer is currently the best player in the world, but to have somebody like [Kabeya] as your understudy is very fortuitous for England at the moment because it is such a key position.”

England’s maul might be getting boring

The Red Roses had never faced Fiji before and in the first half they struggled to pull away because of the Fijians’ rapid pace of play.

As a result they fell back on their trusty set-piece, driving a maul directly over the tryline or using it to draw in defenders so a wing could cross from close range.

Former England flanker Maggie Alphonsi told BBC Radio 5 Live: “England had to find ways to win and had to answer questions they have never been asked before.”

Those questions were answered as a more creative second half saw England make use of their talented backs to score 10 tries.

It left Daley-Mclean with mixed feelings about the reliance on the Red Roses’ forwards dominance.

“Their driving line-out is brilliant,” said Daley-Mclean.

“I really want to embrace it but it bores me a bit. There are only so many times you need to see it but England needed it today.”

Amy Cokayne runs with the ball
Amy Cokayne scored twice as England made use of their maul

England need to tighten up their tackles

The Red Roses had a tackle success rate of 75% in their opening game. Daley-Mclean believes that figure should have been in the 90s.

New Zealand may have stuttered in the first half against Australia, but wings Portia Woodman and Ruby Tui showed how dangerous they can be with a bit of space as they scored five tries between them.

Fiji made seven clean breaks against England and Daley-Mclean said “that is a bit worrying”.

“Fiji picked them off in very similar ways,” she added. “Around the transition between where you would find forwards and backs in that midfield spot, England looked vulnerable.”

Investment works

Victories for England, France and New Zealand on the opening day were proof that investment works.

All three have sufficient funds from their union to be classed as professional, with Wales also gaining that status earlier in 2022.

Attendance at Eden Park for the three matches was confirmed at 34,235, making it a women’s World Cup record and fulfilling expectations that this will be the biggest tournament of its kind yet.

“It’s a turning point in the women’s game,” Alphonsi said.

“Nations know that if they want to keep up, they have to close that gap by investing in their women’s teams. When they do invest in their women’s teams, it does make a difference.”

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