Fiji surprise Wallabies in St Etienne clash

[1/5]Rugby Union – Rugby World Cup 2023 – Pool C – Australia v Fiji – Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Etienne, France – September 17, 2023 Fiji’s Tevita Ikanivere celebrates at the end of the match REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier Acquire license rights

SAINT-ETIENNE, Sept 17 (Reuters) – Fiji made a big statement at the World Cup on Sunday by claiming their first victory over Australia in 69 years, a well-deserved 22-15 win that opened Pool C and left the two-time world champion Wallabies in shock.

Denied a likely victory against Wales in their opening match due to a dropped pass, Fiji dominated the Australians with direct runs, explosive tackles and 11 turnovers to move into second place in the chicken.

With the exception of the players in green and gold, a packed house at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard applauded every Fiji attack and each of the 18 penalties awarded against the Australians.

A converted try from center Josua Tuisova and five shots on goal wreaked havoc on the scoreboard and the Fijians backed up their steely defense to keep the desperate Wallabies out of a dramatic final 10 minutes.

“I think the boys were outstanding today,” Fiji coach Simon Raiwalui said.

“The set piece was good, the runs were good. It was a good win against a very good Australian team.”

Australia scored an opportunistic try through Mark Nawaqanitawase in the first half and got another from substitute Suliasi Vunivalu which made it seven points with 12 minutes remaining.

However, they were second at the breakdown and coach Eddie Jones took off demoralized flyhalf Carter Gordon midway through the second half as the Wallabies struggled to break down the Fiji defence.

“Obviously disappointed we lost the match,” said Jones, who has led Australia to one victory in seven Tests this year.

“Congratulations to Fiji, they played really well, it’s a deserved win for them. I’m really happy for them as a team.”

It was clear to Australia from the start that this would be a real test match, with Fiji putting huge pressure on them by alternating big runners in the middle with long balls outside.

The Wallabies defense held firm but conceded four penalties which Simione Kuruvoli, replacing Frank Lomani as starting scrum-half, kicked to give the Fijians a 12-8 half-time lead.

Australia opened the scoring with an early penalty and scored the first try of the match in the 24th minute when scrumhalf Nic White made it 50-22 after a turnover.

Nawaqanitawase collected the ball for a quick throw to center Samu Kerevi, who charged towards the line before offloading it for the winger to stroll in and land.

Fiji hit back just after the break when Gordon and Nawaqanitawase went for a box kick and Tuisova simply grabbed it on the rebound and raced 40 yards to score.

“It’s a story for us, I just want to thank the boys,” said Tuisova, who was named Man of the Match.

“We treated this game like a final, it’s just incredible to win.”

Kuruvoli converted to give Fiji a 19-8 lead before giving way to Lomani, who added his side’s final penalty in the 66th minute.

Australia looked better after fullback Ben Donaldson took over at the opener, but Vunivalu’s late score was not enough and the Wallabies must now beat Wales next week to avoid first elimination in the group stage of the World Cup.

“It’s my fault. I take full responsibility for (the loss),” Jones added.

“We have work to do, we have Wales next week and we need to hit some rocks tonight.”

Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Toby Davis and Hugh Lawson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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