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Borthwick defiant after historic Fiji defeat adds to England’s woes

England coach Steve Borthwick insisted he was working with a “group of talented players” after a 30-22 defeat by Fiji cast a fresh cloud over his squad’s hopes at the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

Saturday’s reverse at Twickenham was the first time England had lost to the Pacific islanders in eight Tests and also represented their maiden defeat by a current tier-two nation.

England’s woeful end to their warm-up campaign means they have now won just three games out of nine since Borthwick replaced the sacked Eddie Jones in December.

Many pundits felt Borthwick had been on the receiving end of a ‘hospital pass’ from England’s Rugby Football Union given the outspoken Jones’s proven track record in tournament rugby, with the veteran Australian coach taking England all the way to a 2019 World Cup final defeat by South Africa in Japan.

A hugely lopsided draw means England could match that achievement at this year’s edition, but on current form they will do well to beat Argentina in their Pool D opener in Marseille on September 9. 

Nevertheless, 43-year-old former England captain Borthwick tried to rally his squad and staff by telling a post-match press conference Saturday: “I’m very confident with the all the people involved in the team—the players, the coaches, the management.

“This isn’t the result that we wanted and we’re all disappointed. But the focus is to make sure we put in the performance we need against Argentina.

“We’ve got a very good group of talented players who we are sure will play exceptionally well against Argentina. I’m very happy with the squad we’ve got.”

‘Coming together’

The former lock added: “I’ve been involved with other England teams before that have been under pressure, in difficult circumstances and facing adversity like the challenges we’ve faced—and they’ve come apart.

“What I sense is that this is a group that is coming even tighter together. We’re looking forward to getting into this World Cup.”

Jonny May scored an early try for England against Fiji as the hosts established an 8-0 lead.

Fiji, many of whose players now appear in leading club competitions in the southern hemisphere, England and France, went ahead through second-half tries from Waisea Nayacalevu and Vinaya Habosi.

England hit back through tries by Marcus Smith and Joe Marchant. 

But Fiji, displaying plenty of tactical nous in addition to their traditional running game, wrapped up a famous win seven minutes from time with a well-taken try by Simione Kuruvoli.

“Credit Fiji for an excellent performance. We knew they were a dangerous side after they pushed France very hard in France (during a 34-17 defeat last weekend),” added Borthwick.

Fiji begin their World Cup against Wales – the team they knocked out of the 2007 edition in France – in Bordeaux on September 10, with Borthwick warning: “They are going to do very well at the World Cup and there’s the potential for us to meet them again in a few weeks time.”

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