Fiji kept their Rugby World Cup quarter-final hopes alive with a thrilling and deserved 22-15 win over Australia in Saint Etienne on Sunday, their first success against the Wallabies in 69 years.
Man-of-the-match Josua Tuisova scored a second-half try and scrum-half Simione Kuruvoli contributed 15 points with the boot as the Flying Fijians bounced back from their narrow opening Pool C defeat to Wales.
“”I know it’s a long time for us, Fiji, since 19…I don’t know, back in the day,” said Tuisova.
“It’s history for us.”
Australia scored tries through wings Mark Nawaqanitawase and Suli Vunivalu but had to settle for a losing bonus point in a game in which they were always second best.
“I’m emotionally drained at the moment,” said Fiji coach Simon Raiwalui.
“I’m really proud of the boys.
“It was a great contest, a great Australian side.
“I couldn’t be prouder.
“It’s not just today. It’s a culmination of the work we’ve done since the beginning of the campaign.”
Australia coach Eddie Jones was gracious in defeat.
“Thoroughly deserved victory for Fiji, they outplayed us,” said the veteran coach.
“They executed three times more turnovers than us, and in a close game like that, that’s the difference.
“For some reason we were just off today.
“We were a poor version of ourselves today, so there’s a bit of soul-searching to do.”
Fiji came into the clash knowing they could not afford to lose and but for a woeful line-out and some crucial handling errors, they would have racked up a much more comfortable winning scoreline.
Australia, who beat Georgia 35-15 last week, will now face their own must-win game against Wales in a week’s time.
The Wallabies, whose captain Will Skelton pulled out an hour before kick-off after failing to overcome a calf injury, almost missed out on the losing bonus point but Fiji’s replacement scrum-half Frank Lomani screwed a last gasp penalty horribly wide.
A couple of high Fijian tackles allowed Ben Donaldson to kick Australia into a 3-0 lead after three minutes.
Much was made in the build-up to this game about Australia’s defensive vulnerability in wide areas, and Fiji began the game trying to hit the flanks early with ambitious miss-passes that did not always come off.
Two penalties from the unflappable Kuruvoli had Fiji leading 6-3 at the halfway stage of the first period.
And then in a flash, Australia were in front.
A hoofing 50-22 clearing kick from scrum-half Nic White gave Australia a line-out deep in Fijian territory.
While their opponents laboured in getting back, Nawaqanitawase took it quickly to Samu Kerevi, accepted the return pass and dived over for the first try.
Donaldson missed the conversion and moments later Kuruvoli kicked his third penalty to give Fiji back the lead 9-8.
They would never lose it again.
Tuisova canters over
Fiji were clearly on top and forcing Australia into conceding penalties, as Kuruvoli kicked another three-pointer.
But Australia’s dogged defence was preventing the Fijians from getting ball in hand inside their opponents’ 22.
And when they did, poor handling errors and lost line-outs cost them the chance to build on that 12-8 half-time lead.
Fiji finally got the try their play deserved early in the second half.
Australia fly-half Carter Gordon mistimed his jump for a Kuruvoli up-and-under and Tuisova picked up the bouncing ball to run into the corner unopposed.
Kuruvoli kicked the conversion for a 19-8 lead but it was his last meaningful contribution before, seemingly struggling with cramp, he was replaced by Lomani, whose first act was to miss a straight forward-looking penalty.
Fiji should have scored a second try but Tuisova butchered a two man overlap out wide with a wild pass straight into touch.
A successful penalty from Lomani gave Fiji a 14-point lead with as many minutes left.
Almost immediately, though, and moments after Tuisova limped off, Australia’s Fijian-born replacement wing Vunivalu dived over through a crowd of bodies to score, with Donaldson converting to cut the gap to seven.
The Fijians held firm, and as the victory was confirmed the looks of sheer joy told their own story, a marked contrast to the despair of the week before.
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