Following a stunning 22-15 win for Fiji over Australia in Saint-Etienne on Sunday, here’s our five takeaways from the Rugby World Cup clash.
Pool C blown wide open
Although many people quite rightly bemoaned the lopsided draw, this always looked like it could be a tasty group and so it proved after Fiji produced probably the greatest result in their history.
They are now well on course to qualify for the quarter-finals. Having also claimed two bonus-points in their opening match against Wales, they have got their two hardest games out of the way first. Simon Raiwalui’s men now face Georgia and Portugal where two bonus-point triumphs should be enough to see them into the knockout stages.
It equally sets up a mouth-watering clash between Wales and Australia, who go head-to-head in Lyon on September 24. A defeat for the Wallabies and you think that would be it for their chances of reaching the last-eight.
That would be quite the hammer blow for Rugby Australia, considering the governing body decided in their wisdom to sack head coach Dave Rennie just eight months out from the Rugby World Cup. Jones’ record since he came in has been quite frankly dreadful, with just one victory – against Georgia – to his name in seven matches.
Very un-Fijian (in a good way)
We’ve all known about their individual talent, especially in the back-row and from 11-15, but the question has always been over their ability to compete in the basics of the game. Scrum, lineout, maul and kicking game has always been their problem, but they are now genuinely competitive against tier one sides in those areas.
Raiwalui and his coaches have done a brilliant job in the set-piece, and the result was shown on Sunday. Of course, the players still have to execute but there was almost little doubt in that, especially when you have quality props like Eroni Mawi and Luke Tagi – it was about a shift in mindset.
The key for the Pacific Islanders has been balancing that with the ability they have behind the scrum and, to a degree, they did that. The exciting thing for the Flying Fijians is that there is much more to come as they were nowhere near as clinical as they could have been.
In fact, they won this game through their set-piece in the first 60 minutes, while their try came from a box-kick, which tells you everything about the control they had in this game.
While we have praised their set-piece, there is no doubt that the Fijian lineout went to pot in the latter stages of the encounter, which allowed the Wallabies to come back into the game. Credit must go to Australia, and particularly Nick Frost, who was outstanding throughout, for the pressure they exerted, but it was difficult for Tevita Ikanivere when he came on.
They also started making rash decisions in other areas of the game and they were fortunate that it did not cost them, but their big players turned up, stealing ball at the breakdown with regularity and halting Australian momentum.
You also wondered what the hell Fiji were doing taking the ball out of the driving lineout with 30 seconds remaining when they were moving forward. Fortunately, their scrum had one last push in them and won the game.
The Pacific Islanders were clearly the better side, but it did feel as though the occasion weighed heavily on them in the final quarter, but importantly they got through it and this will give them enormous confidence going forward.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 17, 2023
Australia just don’t have the depth
There are some good players in that Wallabies side but, when you take out Will Skelton and Taniela Tupou, they simply lack the gain line presence, as well as the set-piece expertise. As a result, Eddie Jones’ men looked blunt and could not get any go-forward at all.
Without Tupou, Fiji dominated the scrum, while their maul, both attacking and defending, was ineffective. Skelton is renowned for his ability to disrupt opposition drives but, shorn of him in opposition, the Pacific Islanders sent Australia into reverse.
Jones simply doesn’t have like-for-like replacements for those two and it was no surprise to see them struggle as a result.
A difference in half-backs
We have talked about Fiji’s scrum, maul and breakdown work, but a word too for Simione Kuruvoli, who was utterly magnificent at scrum-half. His service was lightning fast, as you would almost expect, but it was his kicking, both off the tee and out of hand, which particularly caught the eye.
Kuruvoli’s box-kicking was pinpoint, with one causing so much confusion in the Australian ranks that it led to Josua Tuisova scampering across the whitewash unopposed, while he didn’t miss an opportunity at goal.
That really helped his playmaking partner Teti Tela, who had a very solid game, but the scrum-half went down with cramp and was forced off early in the second period. Frank Lomani came on and could not continue that momentum, making a series of needless errors during his time on the field, so Raiwalui will hope Kuruvoli can last a bit longer in their next couple of encounters.
Fiji’s starting nine was easily the best of the half-backs. Although Australia’s Nic White played reasonably well, Carter Gordon had a veritable shocker at number 10 and was duly replaced with half-an-hour remaining.
Of course, Jones decided not to bring another out-and-out fly-half and that may have cost them. Having someone like Quade Cooper in reserve would have been invaluable in a game such as that.