en Earl raced half the length of the Stade Velodrome pitch, steaming away from all chasers to seal England’s 30-24 Rugby World Cup quarter-final win over Fiji.
The Saracens back-rower blitzed clear of all the cover to stop Fiji’s ferocious recovery in its tracks.
As the Pacific Islanders tried one poach too many at the breakdown after only just stopping Earl scoring himself, Owen Farrell stepped up and slotted his fifth penalty of a madcap Marseille encounter.
England had led 24-10 on 52 minutes, only to see that advantage evaporate as Fiji delivered two stunning scores in four minutes to level the last-eight clash.
A Farrell drop goal edged England back into the lead, before that Earl break and the skipper’s final penalty took the Red Rose men through – but only just.
Steve Borthwick’s side will now face a semi-final in Paris on Saturday night, against either hosts France or reigning champions South Africa.
Fiji outscored England three tries to two, but a masterful performance from captain Farrell ensured the 2003 winners go through to another last-four appearance.
Viliame Mata, Peni Ravai and Vilimoni Botitu all crossed for Fiji, with Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant claiming England’s tries.
Farrell pinged five penalties and that drop goal, adding one conversion to boot, in an exemplary performance that entirely justified his return to fly-half.
Earl warrants huge praise for his match-sealing turn, however. The 25-year-old could not even get an England look-in as recently as the Six Nations.
Now the Saracens star has usurped long-time talisman Billy Vunipola at No 8 – and again entirely vindicated boss Borthwick’s faith in Marseille with a tub-thumping, gut-busting performance.
England know the intensity and accuracy will ramp against either the hosts or the 2019 winners in the last four next week.
But Borthwick and Co deserve to cherish this win for the hard-fought victory that it was, before focusing back in on an even sterner onslaught in Paris.
Fiji started the day with two massive turnovers to deliver big shots across England’s bow. Courtney Lawes responded in kind with a monstrous jackal of his own as England started to fire themselves.
Farrell’s penalty capped a good attack to put England into an early lead, and when Mata infringed cheaply for blocking, Borthwick’s men took full advantage.
Farrell punted to the corner, England set the lineout maul, and two phases later, Tuilagi cut blind to bust one tackle and gambol home.
Fiji refused to relent that easily though, and Smith was caught cold trying to cut inside from his 22 when he should have tried to outpace the cover out wide.
Frank Lomani missed the easy penalty in a big let-off though, and then Tom Curry was hugely fortunate to avoid a yellow card for a no-arms tackle on Josua Tuisova.
Fiji half-back Lomani made good on his second penalty shot, to put his side on the board. But then England struck again, with Marchant applying a smart stretching finish after stepping in between two would-be tacklers.
Vinaya Habosi was sin-binned en route to that score, for a clash of heads with Smith, leaving the Harlequins star with a nasty-looking bloody nose.
Ollie Lawrence came in at outside centre, Marchant shifted to the wing and Elliot Daly moved to full-back. Lomani missed a second easy penalty for Fiji, to leave the Islanders with the jitters.
But then Botitu’s through-the-legs pass opened the door for Mata to romp in and deliver an acrobatic finish. Lomani slotted the conversion, to leave England leading 15-10 ahead of the half-hour mark.
Just when Fiji looked to plough back into the contest however, Simon Raiwalui’s men started to force the issue too much.
Their breakdown poise eluded them thanks to a string of risky wide passes, heaping pressure on the wings. England picked off the errors, Farrell slotted two penalties – and the Red Rose men took a 21-10 lead into half-time.
Fiji returned brightly after the break, but the cheap errors kept on coming. Botitu spilled the ball under no pressure in England’s 22, to waste a hard-worked platform, the forwards lost their own lineout and the backs strayed into touch trying to break from their own line.
Farrell’s fourth penalty of the match edged England into a 24-10 lead, but the England captain’s next attempt fell just short. Levani Botia tussled with Curry off the ball in an attempt to spark Fiji back into life, and the aggro worked.
The Islanders powered upfield with a fine attack, Waisea Nayacalevu so nearly took Jonny May on the outside, and replacement prop Ravai strode home in style. Simione Kuruvoli’s conversion left England leading 24-17 with 16 minutes to play.
The replacement scrum-half then fired a penalty shot against the post, only for Fiji to recover the loose ball in England’s half. And from that possession, Fiji kept their heads and worked Botitu through to race in for a stunning score.
Kuruvoli’s conversion levelled the game at 24-24 with 12 minutes to play. So comfortable for so long, all of a sudden England found themselves in a serious contest.
The Red Rose men did the smart thing and Farrell slotted a drop goal to inch Borthwick’s side back into a three-point lead.
Fiji came again and again, but then Earl broke out and dragged all of England with him. Farrell pinged the three-pointer, and the day was done.