Fiji stuns Wallabies 22-15 at Rugby World Cup in France to break 69-year drought

Fiji stuns Wallabies 22-15 at Rugby World Cup in France to break 69-year drought

Monday 18/09/2023
Wallabies number eight Rob Valetini shows his disappointment after the loss to Fiji.(AP Photo: Aurelien Morissard)

Australia's Rugby World Cup campaign has been dealt a major blow, with Fiji defeating the Wallabies 22-15 in a tense pool match in Saint-Étienne.

Not since 1954 has Fiji defeated Australia in a Test match and the result leaves the Wallabies with a 1-1 win-loss record in Pool C.

The Wallabies face what looms as a sudden-death clash against Wales in Lyon next Monday AEST as they look to keep their hopes alive of advancing to the quarterfinals.

It is only the fourth time the Wallabies have lost a World Cup pool match and they have never exited a tournament at the preliminary stage.

The Wallabies — who had captain Will Skelton ruled out before kick-off because of a calf injury — did grab a bonus point, which may prove crucial in the final Pool C standings.

Unbeaten Wales is on top of the pool with 10 points, followed by Fiji and the Wallabies on six.

Penalty goals were traded in the opening 20 minutes, with Fiji taking a 6-3 lead midway through the first half.

But just minutes later, the Wallabies scored the first try of the match through an opportunist play from Nic White.

From inside his own half, White pumped a kick down field to gain touch with a 50:22, from which Mark Nawaqanitawase took the quick throw-in to find Samu Kerevi.

Kerevi steamed towards the goal line before offloading to Nawaqanitawase, who crossed down the right flank.

Ben Donaldson missed the conversion attempt, leaving the Wallabies ahead 8-6, however it was a short-lived advantage with Fiji halfback Simione Kuruvoli landing his third penalty goal of the half.

Kuruvoli added a fourth in the 33rd minute, giving the Flying Fijians a 12-8 lead that they held through to the half-time break.

Any hopes the Wallabies had of starting the second half on a positive note were dashed, with Fiji scoring its first try of the match in the 43rd minute.

A well-time Fijian box kick was poorly judged by the Wallabies inside their half, with Nawaqanitawase and Carter Gordon allowing the ball to bounce amid a moment of confusion.

Fiji inside centre Josua Tuisova did not waste the invitation to claim the ball, before charging to the goal line to cross for the try.

Kuruvoli converted to establish a 19-8 lead and he was soon to leave the field, with reserve Frank Lomani taking over the goalkicking duties.

Lomani was successful from the kicking tee with a penalty goal to stretch Fiji's lead to 22-8 in the 66th minute, leaving the Wallabies the task of needing two converted tries to level the score.

Suliasi Vunivalu play his part with a try from a pick-and-go play close to the Fijian line, before Donaldson added the extras to close the gap to seven points.

But it was as close as the Wallabies could get to overhauling the Flying Fijians, who went on to complete a famous and deserved victory.

Story by Simon Smale and Luke Pentony

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