Fiji are 21st in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, so it was always going to be a tough ask for them on their first ever Rugby World Cup outing at Eden Park in Auckland.
They scored three excellent tries, but ran out of steam, England scoring 10 tries in the second 40 minutes as the world’s number one team went on to win their 26th test in a row in New Zealand.
England’s first try came in the fifth minute when scrum-half Leanne Infante fed winger Claudia Macdonald who went in out wide from short range. Centre Emily Scarratt could not convert, but they were 5-0 to the good.
Fiji are known for playing an expansive game, but it was some big drives by their forwards that nearly got them over for a score in the 13th minute. The England defence did well to hold them up over the try-line and five minutes later play was right back up the other end.
From a well-controlled driving maul England hooker Amy Cokayne scored an unconverted try to make it 10-0 and then the third try came for England in the 27th minute when second-row Abbie Ward powered over. Scarratt converted and things got worse for Fiji when their captain Sereima Leweniqila was yellow-carded following an incident in the lead up to the try.
That made it 17-0 and Fiji were the team down a player, but it did not look like it when they scored a wonderful try - their first ever at a Rugby World Cup - eight minutes before half-time.
A break through the middle of the English defence by full-back Roela Radiniyavuni and then a well-timed pass sent right-wing Alowesi Nakoci in for the score. Scrum-half Lavena Cavuru converted and it was 17-7.
To finish off an entertaining 40 minutes of rugby there was still time for both sides to score another try apiece.
England’s fourth try for the bonus point came via centre Helena Rowland after a break by openside flanker Sadia Kabeya. Scarratt converted.
Fiji’s second try came in the dying seconds of the half, centre Sesenieli Donu finishing off a good move. Cavuru added the extras and it was 24-14.
England came out firing after half-time and added four more tries in the first 13 minutes of the second period.
Cockayne got her second, second-row Zoe Aldcroft went over and winger Lydia Thompson crossed twice. Scarratt converted two of them and it was suddenly 48-14.
Macdonald and replacement Abby Dow, back after long-term injury, were next to score and another Scarratt conversion made it 60-14.
With Fiji tiring in the final quarter, four more tries came from England.
They came from Infante, Macdonald with two - to make it four on the day for her - and substitute Connie Powell. Fly-off Zoe Harrison converted two of them.
After putting in such a great effort, it was perhaps fitting that the last word went to Fiji, Cavuru going over for an unconverted effort as it finished 84-19.
After the match England captain Sarah Hunter said: “First of all, credit to Fiji.
“This was their Rugby World Cup debut and they came to play, rattling us as we only led 24-14 at half-time.
“In the second half we went back to our game plan and managed to score some good tries which was really pleasing.”
Kabeya was named Mastercard Player of the Match.