Favourites England open their World Cup with a dominant second-half showing to claim a record 14 tries against debutants Fiji.
|Fiji: (14) 19|
|Tries: Nakoci, Donu, Cavuru; Cons: Cavuru 2|
|England: (24) 84|
|Tries: MacDonald 4, Cokayne 2, Ward, Rowland, Aldcroft, Thompson 2, Dow, Infante, Powell; Cons: Scarratt 5, Harrison 2|
Fiji played a high-tempo game and only trailed by 10 points at half-time.
But the Red Roses’ professionalism shone as they scored 10 tries after the break and wing Claudia MacDonald took her individual tally to four.
England have never scored more tries or points in a World Cup match and extend their record winning run to 26 Tests.
England’s previous highest World Cup score was 82 against Kazakhstan in 2010 and they scored 13 tries against Sweden and Canada in 1998.
Auckland’s Eden Park was sold out for the opening day, with an attendance of 34,235 surpassing the record for a women’s World Cup match of 20,000 set in 2014.
Earlier on Saturday, France – England’s closest rivals for the title along with New Zealand – beat South Africa 40-5 at the same venue, meaning the Red Roses are top of Pool C.
The three main contenders and Wales are the only sides at the tournament with enough investment from their union to be classed as fully professional.
Exciting Fiji test England early on
Fiji brought the same amount of intensity to the first half of their World Cup debut as they did emotion to the national anthem.
Number eight Karalaini Naisewa made an immediate break to set England on edge but the professional and clinical Red Roses soon stifled Fiji’s creativity with their ever-reliable set-piece.
A maul left space for MacDonald to score the opening try, before Fiji’s fast game began to test England again.
The two main talking points before the opening day had been that it is the biggest women’s World Cup ever and that England are favourites to win.
Dropped balls from fly-half Zoe Harrison and flanker Sadia Kabeya – starting ahead of the injured Marlie Packer – hinted at nerves from the highly-touted team but again their maul came good as Amy Cokayne scored the second try.
England may not be able to rely so strongly on that tactic against stronger opponents like France and New Zealand and retired World Cup winner Katy Daley-Mclean questioned during the week whether the Red Roses have a plan B.
Plan A was all that was needed against Fiji. Women’s rugby is still in its infancy there, with the first club only formed 10 years ago, and the side’s most-capped players have made just eight appearances.
Abbie Ward drove over for a try and Fiji captain Sereima Leweniqila was shown a yellow card in the aftermath.
Despite being a player down, Fiji finally delivered on their attacking promise as full-back Roela Radiniyavuni broke through a maze of red shirts inside her own half and fed wing Alowesi Nakoci for the team’s first World Cup try.
Then Kabeya made amends for her earlier error with an impressive break of her own, with Helena Rowland running onto a low pass to score.
Fiji continued to show individual brilliance as Sesenieli Donu faked a pass and sliced through four England defenders for a second try before the break.
England reinforce favourites tag
In the second half, England looked more like the side which has averaged nine tries per game in 2022.
Top of the world rankings since November 2020, the Red Roses have dominated the world game since their last loss in July 2019.
That defeat came against five-time world champions New Zealand, but England’s opening win demonstrates why they are such heavy favourites to take a third title.
Cokayne drove over for a second try three minutes after the half began and another three minutes later Zoe Aldcroft scored.
A loose ball led to a try for Lydia Thompson and the wing then finished off a well-worked team score before MacDonald claimed a second.
If you had to pick a winner among the 14 tries, the 10th would be up there. Abby Dow, who completed her unlikely return from a broken leg in six months to get to New Zealand, scored to the delight of her team-mates and coaches.
England will always find room for improvement and kicking may be one such area, with centre Emily Scarratt missing five of 10 conversion attempts.
But it is hard to find much fault in a team that scored a try every four minutes in the second half, with Leanne Infante and Connie Powell also adding their names to the scoresheet before the 80 minutes were up.
Player of the match – Sadia Kabeya
Fiji: Radiniyavuni; Nakoci, Laqeretabua, Donu, Naikore; Rokouono, Cavuru; Verebalavu, Matarugu, Rasolea, Serevi, Leweniqila (capt), Waisega, Adivitaloga, Naisewa.
Replacements: Tawake, Vasuturaga, Namositava, Ofakimalino, Daveua, Ravato, Roqica, Matanatabu.
England: Kildunne; Thompson, Scarratt, Rowland, MacDonald; Harrison, Infante; Cornborough, Cokayne, Bern, Aldcroft, Ward, Matthews, Kabeya, Hunter (capt).
Replacements: Powell, Botterman, Muir, O’Donnell, Cleall, L Packer, Aitchison, Dow.