England boss Steve Borthwick insisted he will stay loyal to his players and management team despite one of the darkest days in the nation’s rugby history.
A 30-22 defeat by Fiji was their first loss to the Islanders in eight meetings and the first time they have fallen to a current tier-two team, with the result expected to plunge them to an all-time lowest position of ninth in the global rankings.
The worst possible build-up to the World Cup has seen their record under Borthwick number only three wins in nine Tests and their critical Pool D opener against Argentina is only a fortnight away.
Borthwick refused to panic, however, as he outlined his belief that England will come good.
“I’m very confident with the all the people involved in the team – the players, the coaches, the management,” Borthwick said.
“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.
“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.”
England made a high-octane start as they raced into an 8-0 lead but Fiji – who matched their customary magic in attack with tactical smarts and impressive organisation – took hold of the game by scoring three entertaining tries.
“We’re bitterly disappointed. Frustrated that we saw growth in some areas of our game but other areas dropped off,” Borthwick said.
“If you miss that many tackles against a team like Fiji they are going to score tries. The team started positively but made too many errors and slipped off too many tackles.
“Credit Fiji for an excellent performance. We knew they were a dangerous side after they pushed France very hard in France.
“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.
“Our focus is to be ready for Argentina. These games in August are there for us to understand the areas that we need to develop.”
Fiji’s all-court performance will have shaken their Pool C rivals Wales and Australia as they fully justified the growing expectations that they will claim some major scalps at the World Cup.
“We don’t get to play at Twickenham too often so this was a great honour for us. It’s huge to get the victory and I’m very proud of the boys,” head coach Simon Raiwalui said.
“I wouldn’t say we were comfortable because it was a tough match. We’ve made a huge progression with our rugby.”