PARIS - Fiji produced the upset the Rugby World Cup needed on Sunday beating Australia to end almost seven decades of rugby pain at their hands while the 2019 finalists South Africa and England made it two wins from two.
The Fiji players described as “jackals” by their impressive coach Simon Raiwalui outmuscled the Wallabies to deservedly prevail 22-15 in a thrilling match that blows open Pool C. It was the first time Fiji had ever beaten Australia at a World Cup. Defending champions South Africa and England won in contrasting styles, the Springboks thrashing Romania 76-0 in Pool B while the English ground out a 34-12 win over Japan in Pool D.
Fiji’s impressive victory gives them a great chance of reaching the last eight for the first time since 2007 with their remaining matches against a robust Georgia and whipping boys Portugal. Raiwalui said this was a new Fiji that can combine steel in the forward line with extravagant three-quarter play.
“We wanted to change who we are, our identity, what we stood for,” said the New Zealand-born former Fiji lock. “We have traditional areas where those Tier 1 teams, developed nations attack us and we think those are the areas that we’ve really improved in.”
Rather than a “bunch of talented individuals,” Raiwalui said this Fiji is a “team of talented players.” Australia and coach Eddie Jones by contrast have it all to do if they are to avoid the ignominy of becoming the first Wallabies team to fail to reach the knockout stages.
Jones, who in his first spell in charge took Australia to the 2003 final only to lose to England in the dying seconds of extra-time, and his team face a monumental test of character against Wales next weekend. However, the 63-year-old former England coach, who Australian rugby chiefs took a gamble on bringing back to replace Dave Rennie last January, is adamant his young side can still go deep in the tournament.
“We’ve had a bit of a setback today but that’s all part of being at a World Cup, I do remember South Africa lost a game and won the (2019) World Cup,” said Jones. South Africa’s minds will switch quickly to next Saturday’s keenly awaited match with Six Nations Grand Slam champions Ireland. Perhaps, though, the most significant move by the Springboks came off the pitch.
In an effort to resolve their Achilles heel, kicking at goal, they called up their 2019 World Cup-winning playmaker Handre Pollard, replacing hooker Malcom Marx, who was ruled out of the tournament last week.
Nienaber was in philosophical mood when asked about the Ireland match which many believe will decide who tops the pool and who finishes second. Awaiting the runners-up in the quarter-finals is likely to be host nation France with the winners of Pool B most probably facing New Zealand. “Destiny will decide who we will play in the quarter-final,” said Nienaber.
England did not win over many neutral observers in their attritional win over Japan but for diehard supporters the style means little as they sit top of Pool D after two matches. England fly-half George Ford, who contributed 14 points with the boot to go with his team’s four tries, admitted it had hardly been box office rugby.