The pragmatic Fiji completely relaunched the race for qualification in Group C of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, winning 22-15 against the pale Australians on Sunday in Saint-Étienne. They had been waiting for this since 1954: it had been almost 70 years since Fiji last beat the Wallabies. So, when they obtained their 17th penalty of the game, in the 80th minute and while it still had to be played, the players of the Islands, very pious, knelt down to pray. Their victory on the pitch of the Geoffroy-Guichard stadium owes nothing to heaven, as they dominated Australia, who were known to be weak, but who were not suspected of being without resources.
A reliable scorer
Simon Raiwalui, the coach of Fiji, did not hide for long why he had decided to start for this clash his two stars stamped Top 14, the third row of La Rochelle, Levani Botia, and the three-quarter center who has just signed at Racing 92 from Lyon, Josua Tuisova. From the first possession of the Fijian ball, Botia happily impaled himself in the Australian defense to provoke a ruck, from which scrum half Simione Kuruvoli served Tuisova, named man of the match at the end of the match, for a second blade in the “aussie” shoulders. An action which ultimately achieved nothing, but which reflected the domination of the Fijians in a completely mastered first act.
Often described as fanciful to politely underline their mistakes in the game, defensively in particular, they monopolized the ball throughout the first period and pushed the Australian defense into error, penalized seven times during the first act. A new development compared to their inaugural meeting, lost to Wales (32-26), the “Flying Fijians” also found a reliable scorer with Kuruvoli, starting in place of Franck Lomani, and who scored all five shots on goal that he attempted (4 penalties and a conversion), before his exit at the hour mark, crippled with cramps.
The match, at that moment, was already over, Tuisova, still him, having recovered a kick over Kuruvoli, still him, to score the only Fijian try without the Australian defense giving the impression of want to dump him.
The race for qualification in Group C is on
The Australian defense? Eddie Jones, the Wallaby coach, who was heavily whistled every time he appeared on the giant screen at the Geoffroy-Guichard stadium, claimed to have worked particularly hard this week in training. And if she only broke once, almost by a twist of fate, during Tuisova’s try, she struggled throughout the game, penalized 17 times under the Fijian strikes. This is all that was given to Australia, paler than ever, who practically did not benefit from any attacking ball, who, historically, mastered possession of the ball like no other , increasing the playing time to end up breaking down the opposing defenses.
This is what they tried to do at the end of the game when Isaak Fines-Leleiwasa entered the fray and Donaldson moved to the opener, but their attacks were all, or almost all, annihilated by the Fijian scratchers, Tuisova, again, in the lead. The Fijian victory completely relaunches the race for qualification in Group C, where Australia will play very big on September 24 in Lyon against Wales. The Fijians thus join Australia, who miraculously obtained the defensive bonus, in second place in Group C with six points, behind the Welsh (10 pts).
Simon Raiwalui’s players can see the rest of their tournament more calmly. They will face Georgia and Portugal, the weakest teams in the group, in their last two meetings. By playing like this, there is no doubt that they will see the quarter-finals of the competition.