Owen Farrell steered England into the semi-finals of the World Cup after Steve Borthwick’s side faced down a Fiji fightback in a dramatic 30-24 victory in Marseille.
England appeared to be cruising into the next round when they led 24-10 heading into the final quarter thanks to tries by Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant and Farrell’s pinpoint kicking at Stade Velodrome.
But their foundations shook when Peni Ravai went over in the 65th minute and a nerve-jangling finish beckoned as Vilimoni Botitu crossed to level the score soon after.
Farrell landed a drop-goal to usher in the unbearably tense closing minutes and with Fiji throwing the kitchen sink at them, they picked off a loose pass and sped downfield through Ben Earl.
Farrell landed his fifth penalty and despite one final assault from the Islanders, the white wall held firm to secure a semi-final spot, where they will face holders South Africa in a repeat of the 2019 final.
England are the only home union side to reach the last four following the demise of Wales and Ireland in this weekend’s quarter-finals but they rode their luck at times during a frenzied second half having played smart rugby before the interval.
The result avenged their first ever loss to Fiji in August and by reaching the penultimate stage of the World Cup they have surpassed expectations given they entered the tournament on the back of five defeats in six Tests.
There was no sign of the fireworks to come as England surged ahead, capitalising on their opponents’ indiscipline to score three points through Farrell before a second penalty produced a line-out drive that ended with Tuilagi diving over in the left corner.
Roared on by fans, Marcus Smith ran from deep but was swallowed up by the Islanders and the drama continued with Maro Itoje intercepting and racing into space before Tom Curry made a dangerously low tackle on Josua Tuisova.
Curry’s offence allowed Frank Lomani to kick three points but England replied with waves of attacks and their tempo stretched Fiji’s defence, allowing Marchant to jink over.
Fiji wing Vinaya Habosi was sent to the sin-bin for a high hit on Smith, who departed for an HIA, but his side were the next over in a breathless first half when Viliame Mata scooped up a loose ball, dummied and strolled over.
Itoje and Courtney Lawes were battered as the Islanders made their presence felt in defence but England continued to force penalties that allowed Farrell to land six more points.
Fiji infringed freely as their opponents racked up time in possession, but two wayward Farrell kicks after he had fired a smart chip into space provided a route out of difficulty and they started moving the ball with menace until Lawes turned them over.
The second half was more ragged and England’s play was frantic at times, lacking the control evident earlier, but the scoreboard kept ticking over as Farrell extended their lead to14 points.
Fiji lost the ball time and again, preventing them from building any momentum, but they faced a muscular defence.
Finally they broke through, Ravai concluding a sustained assault and when the conversion was added, the deficit was down to a converted try.
The tide had turned and when a Simione Kuruvoli penalty struck the upright, it fell to Fiji and they pounded away at the favourites until Isoa Nasilasila forced a gap and Botitu touched down.
Farrell replied with his drop-goal and when Earl broke clear to relieve the pressure of a Fiji attack, sprinting 60 metres downfield, a penalty was forced that Farrell rifled over.
The Islanders fell short with one final attack and when the full-time whistle sounded they collapsed to the floor in disappointment.