Captain Owen Farrell kicked 20 points to lead England to a gripping 30-24 Rugby World Cup quarter-final victory over Fiji yesterday as the Islanders surged back from 14 points down before the captain slotted a drop goal and penalty to win the game.
Centres Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant scored tries as England led 24-10 early in the second half on the back of their most impressive performance for years.
However, in classic style, Fiji scored two tries in four minutes to change the mood, only for England, thanks to surging runs by outstanding number eight Ben Earl, to regain a lead they held on to in a dramatic finale.
England reached their sixth World Cup semi-final and will go in search of a fifth final appearance when they South Africa, who beat France 29-28 in an explosive battle later yesterday.
At the same ground 16 years ago Fiji had a similar experience, fighting back to go level with South Africa in the quarter-final and they again fell just short of becoming the first Tier Two team to reach the semis.
For most of the match, a fired-up England were unrecognisable from the team who looked so lacklustre against Samoa last week.
They blasted out of the blocks and Tuilagi showed great dexterity to spin and reach back to touch down for the first try. Another slick break set up Marchant, who used sharp footwork and a telescopic arm to claim the second.
However, down to 14 with winger Vinaya Habosi in the sin-bin, Fiji hit back as Vilimoni Botitu flipped a pass backwards through his legs for Viliame Mata to score under the posts.
It was a rare attack, though, and more England pressure earned penalty opportunities that Farrell gobbled up to build a 21-10 lead halftime lead, which they stretched to 14 points after 55 minutes.
England’s fans were planning for Paris but suddenly Fiji struck back with tries by Peni Ravai and Vilimoni Botitu after superb Semi Radradra offloads and with Simione Kuruvoli converting both it was 24-24 10 minutes from time.
To their immense credit, however, England remained calm and surging runs by the irrepressible Earl set up Farrell for a drop goal and a penalty which the flyhalf knocked over with three minutes to go.
There was still time for drama, however, as England held off a relentless series of attacks and thought they had won it, only for Farrell to be penalised for a deliberate knock-on, before they eventually won the decisive penalty to end it with 86 minutes on the clock.
When England were beaten at Twickenham by Fiji in August it was their fifth defeat in six matches and they set off for France with criticism raining down from every angle.
Now, on the back of five wins in a row the 2019 World Cup runners-up are in the last four again.
Later, South Africa and France gave a breathtaking display of rugby over 80 scintillating minutes at the Stade de France. Three tries apiece in an astonishing first half, bone-juddering tackles throughout, blistering line defence and exquisite individual skills left the almost 80,000 squeezed into the packed Paris stadium agog.
Smart box-kicking by the Springboks had kept French hearts permanently in their mouths with Thomas Ramos looking less than steady under the barrage of high balls, and it was the Springboks who won a second half tactical arm-wrestle thanks to their power, a mighty Eben Etzebeth try proving the difference.