Flying Fijians World Cup future is in their hands after an escape to victory in Bordeaux
Two second-half tries spared an uncharacteristically nervy Fiji’s blushes as they came from behind to beat Georgia 17-12. It put them on the brink of qualification for the quarter-finals – but also allowed Eddie Jones to breathe again.
Captain Waisea Nayacalevu muscled and weaved his way through two defenders to belatedly kick-start Fiji’s quarter-final qualification bid at an unseasonably warm Stade de Bordeaux.
His touchdown in the corner, 12 minutes into the second half, finally got Fiji on the scoreboard. Frank Lomani converted but missed a much more straightforward penalty a couple of minutes later. By this time, opponents Georgia had already kicked three penalties – and had what looked a nailed-on try ruled out for the most microscopic of forward passes.
Up to that point, it had been that sort of game for Fiji, whose heads appeared to be already in a quarter-final they have still not yet officially qualified for. The scent of an upset was in the air. And the Fijians would have had images of the loss to Uruguay in 2019 running around their heads.
But the skipper’s score – while Semi Radradra was in the sin-bin for slapping down a ball – woke them up. Suddenly there was more snap to their play. Their forwards’ famed ability to make metres through contact had returned, after being noticeable by its absence in the opening period. It was just a shame their backs weren’t always on the same page. There is remedial work to do in attack before next weekend’s pool-deciding match against Portugal.
Fifteen minutes later, Vinaya Habosi picked up Player of the Match Levani Botia’s offload – Botia had just won the turnover that took the action into Georgia’s 22 from deep inside their own territory – to score Fiji’s second try and send them to the brink of what would be their third quarter-final appearance in Rugby World Cups.
There was time for a scare or two yet. Josua Tuisova was yellow-carded for a high tackle a minute from time. It was was referred to the ‘bunker’, but not in the end upgraded. And Georgia had one more attack up their sleeves with the clock in the red. Ilaisa Droasese got to a kick-ahead first, with two Georgian attackers bearing down on him at high velocity. He went defensive route one, hammering the ball dead on the volley to end the game.
Fiji quarter-final edges closer
Fiji’s place in the last eight has yet to be confirmed. Australia could provisionally overtake them in Pool C with a win over Portugal in Saint-Étienne on Sunday – but Simon Raiwalui’s side still have that game in hand. They play Os Lobos next week in Toulouse.
That first half had been a tale of two defences. Pedestrian, lackadaisical Fiji… and Joe Worsley’s. He had Georgia tackling as if their lives depended on it, chasing Fijian ball-carriers as if they’d nicked their mum’s handbag in the street.
Their set-piece, too, had been in the ascendancy. Early in the second period, Fiji lost their fifth lineout, of 12 at the time.
They’d got off to the quickest start – and would, should perhaps, have scored in the third minute if Akaki Tabutsadze had held on to a pass from opposite wing Davit Niniashvili. They did score two minutes later, when Luka Matkava calmly slotted over a penalty.
Quarter-of-an-hour and two Georgian injury replacements later, they increased their lead, as Niniashvili casually tapped over a penalty from well over 50 metres. He repeated the trick shortly after the half-hour, from just under 50 metres, to send the Eastern Europeans into a thoroughly deserved nine-point lead.
It arguably should have been more. Niniashvili – him again – stopped a flying Droasese in his tracks just outside Georgia’s 22. Scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze hacked on the suddenly loose ball, Josua Tuisova made a mess of cleaning up, No 8 Tornike Jalagonia didn’t and got the ball out to Tabutsadze, who made no mistake this time.
But Jalagonia’s pass was ruled forward. It felt, at the time, like a Moment Of Great Import. So it proved.
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