Real deal Fiji stun Wallabies in St Etienne

6:28 am on 18 September 2023
Fiji's outside centre and captain Waisea Nayacalevu, centre, runs with the ball after breaking through a tackle from Australia's centre Lalakai Foketi, left,  during the France 2023 Rugby World Cup Pool C match between Australia and Fiji at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne, south-eastern France on September 17, 2023.

Fiji captain Waisea Nayacalevu, centre, runs with the ball after breaking through a tackle from Australia's Lalakai Foketi during their Pool C match in Saint-Etienne France. Photo: AFP

Fiji made a huge statement at the World Cup with their first win over Australia for 69 years, a thoroughly deserved 22-15 victory that blew Pool C wide open and left the twice world champion Wallabies shellshocked.

Denied a likely victory over Wales in their opener by a dropped pass, Fiji overpowered the Australians with direct running, explosive tackling and 11 turnovers to ease into second place in the pool.

Look back at how the match unfolded with RNZ Pacific's live blog

Barring those in green and gold, a packed house at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard cheered each Fiji attack and every single one of the 18 penalties awarded against the Australians.

A converted try from centre Josua Tuisova and five penalty kicks did the damage on the scoreboard and the Fijians backed their steely defence to keep the desperate Wallabies out in a dramatic last 10 minutes.

"I thought the boys were outstanding today," said Fiji coach Simon Raiwalui.

"Set piece was good, the carries were good. It was a good win against a very good Australia team."

Australia scored an opportunistic try through Mark Nawaqanitawase in the first half and had another from replacement Suliasi Vunivalu that made it a seven-point game 12 minutes from time.

They were second best at the breakdown, however, and coach Eddie Jones took demoralised flyhalf Carter Gordon off midway through the second half as the Wallabies struggled to break down the Fijian defence.

"Obviously disappointed that we lost the game," said Jones, who has led Australia to one win in seven tests this year.

"Congratulations to Fiji, they played really well, a deserved victory for them. I'm really pleased for them as a team."

It was clear to Australia early on that this would be a proper test match with Fiji piling huge pressure on them by alternating big runners up the middle with long balls out wide.

The Wallabies defence just about held but they conceded four penalties which Simione Kuruvoli, brought in for Frank Lomani as starting scrumhalf, banged over to give the Fijians a 12-8 lead at halftime.

Australia had opened the scoring through an early penalty and grabbed the first try of the match in the 24th minute when scrumhalf Nic White kicked a 50-22 from turnover ball.

Nawaqanitawase snapped up the ball for a quick throw to centre Samu Kerevi, who charged towards the line before offloading for the winger to stroll over and touch down.

Fiji hit back straight after the break when Gordon and Nawaqanitawase left a box kick for each other and Tuisova simply took it on the bounce and raced 40 metres to score.

"It's history for us, I just want to thank the boys," said Tuisova, who was named Man of the Match.

"We treated this match as a final, it's just incredible to win."

Kuruvoli converted to give Fiji a 19-8 lead before making way for Lomani, who added his team's final penalty in the 66th minute.

Australia looked better after fullback Ben Donaldson moved up to take over at flyhalf but Vunivalu's late score was not enough and the Wallabies must now beat Wales next week to avoid a first pool stage exit at the World Cup.

"It's my fault. I take full responsibility for (the loss)," Jones added.

"We've got some work to do, we've got Wales next week and we need to kick some stones tonight."

Wallabies head coach Eddie Jones

Eddie Jones has a lot to ponder. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Another injury scare for Boks

South Africa had a fine day at the office, thumping Romania 76-0, but there is concern about another possible injury in their squad as Vincent Koch missed out after hurting himself in the pre-match warm-up.

Coach Jacques Nienaber said the prop hurt his knee but the extent of the injury was not yet clear.

"There is a bit of injury worry within the side so we will look and assess and make a decision," Nienaber told reporters.

For the Springbok coach there were many boxes ticked as South Africa turned out an eccentric line-up, including four scrumhalves in the match day 23, three of them on the pitch together at one stage.

"Internally we have massive respect for Romania, we gave them a lot of attention during the week, but we also wanted to get something out of the game for ourselves, giving guys opportunities."

South Africa had Faf de Klerk at flyhalf and Grant Williams on the wing, where he scored two tries, and in the second half used flankers Deon Fourie and Marco van Staden at hooker.

"I'm especially happy with a couple of things we tried," Nienaber added. "The three different hookers that we used, I thought that paid off.

"Then Faf got some exposure at flyhalf so I thought a lot of things that we wanted to get out of the game, we got.

"We're happy from a defensive point of view, the fact it went to 76 points to zero conceded. Sometimes the scoreboard goes for you but the effort was there and that's what mattered.Gǥ

South Africa have a much tougher proposition against top ranked Ireland next Saturday at the Stade de France in Paris in a match likely to settle the top two in Pool B and decide who plays France or New Zealand in the quarter-final, barring any major upsets.

"We've got a short turnaround, so we'll enjoy tonight but in a controlled manner and we'll start making plans for Ireland tomorrow. It will be a big game in terms of who finishes one or two in the pool ... maybe not, we still have Tonga, we are only halfway, I don't want to get too far ahead.

"It's going to be a tough quarter-final no matter who we play. We can't control that, destiny will decide," Nienaber said.

- Reuters

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