SAINT-ETIENNE, FRANCE (AP) – Fiji defeated Australia 22-15 for the first time in 69 years and sent a jolt of euphoria through the Rugby World Cup on Sunday.
A week after an agonising loss to Wales when the last pass was spilled with the tryline open, the Fijians had to win in Saint-Etienne to stay in the hunt for their first quarterfinal in 16 years. They lived to fight on while putting the heat back on Wales and Australia, who meet next Sunday. One of the trio won’t make it out of Pool ‘C’.
Famed for being rugby’s greatest ad-libbers, Fiji put the razzle-dazzle away and won in a very un-Fijian traditional way: Breakdown domination, brick-wall defence, and relentless commitment for 80 minutes. The Fijians were disciplined, composed and clinical in a heavily defensive game of few chances. Flanker Levani Botia and inside back Josua Tuisova led them with three turnovers each.
“I’m emotionally drained,” said Simon Raiwalui, Fiji’s coach only since February. “I couldn’t be prouder. This result was not on the scale of Japan beating South Africa in 2015 or that much of an upset. This result was coming. Fiji crushed the Pacific Nations Cup. It pushed France close and toppled England at Twickenham in the warmups. Fiji came to the Rugby World Cup ranked higher than pool rivals Australia and Wales, and would have beaten Wales last weekend with even an ounce of luck.
Fiji has time to celebrate its first win over Australia since 1954 in Sydney. It has a two-week break before meeting Georgia, then finishes against Portugal.
Meanwhile, all of South Africa’s plans came together. The first objective was achieved in a thumping win with hat tricks by scrumhalf Cobus Reinach and wing Makazole Mapimpi among 12 tries without reply in Bordeaux.
The defending champions had the first four of their tries and a bonus point inside 12 minutes, and Reinach’s third try in the 24th minute just missed breaking his own record for the fastest hat trick at the Rugby World Cup. He set that four years ago with three in 20 minutes against Canada.
Away from the convincing result, South Africa also made big gains with a series of experiments. At least one of them might have a significant impact for the tournament, starting with South Africa’s next game against top-ranked Ireland.