By Paul Jones
Wales are suddenly facing a likely do-or-die World Cup showdown against Australia after Fiji’s stunning victory over the Wallabies blew Pool C wide open.
The result in Saint-Etienne – a thrilling 22-15 victory for the Fijians – was the worst possible outcome for Wales, with Fiji picking up four points and the Aussies gaining a priceless bonus point.
It leaves Wales on top of the pool with a maximum 10 points from two matches, but with plenty of jeopardy over their place in the quarter-finals.
They are likely to need at least a losing bonus point against the Aussies this weekend to avoid being squeezed into third place in the final reckoning.
With their two toughest matches out of the way, Fiji have six points, thanks to their two losing bonus points salvaged against Wales late on.
Fiji have just beaten 2-time world champions Australia at the Rugby World Cup 🏉 🌎 🏆
Fiji has a population of 900k.
They have only beaten Australia twice before, both in the 1950s 👏🏼
— Tadhg Reynolds (@tadhgreynolds) September 17, 2023
Two maximums against Georgia and Portugal would give Fiji a total of 16 points.
If Australia beat Wales and take five points from their game against Portugal, that would give them 15 points.
Should Wales beat the Aussies, they will be expected to top the pool with a probable four wins, if they overcome Georgia.
But if they lose to the Aussies, and fail to pick up a losing bonus point, the most Wales could muster would be 15 – that could put them out of the tournament as the Wallabies would have won the head-to-head.
Australia coach Eddie Jones said: “It was a thoroughly deserved victory for Fiji.
“They outplayed us, particularly around the ruck. They had three times more turnovers than us and in a close game, that’s the difference. For some reason, we were just off.
“If you look at the stats we dominated and scored two tries to one, but we weren’t quite ourselves so there’s going to be some soul searching. It makes the Wales game pretty important.’
🗣 "It's the worst defeat in Australian World Cup history."
🗣 "It's the end of 20 years of neglect. 20 years of poor administration. 20 years of poor technical coaching."
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) September 17, 2023
Fiji made a huge statement at the Rugby World Cup with their first win over Australia for 69 years, a thoroughly deserved victory that left the twice world champion Wallabies shellshocked.
Denied a likely victory over Wales in their opener by a dropped pass, Fiji overpowered the Australians with direct running, explosive tackling and 11 turnovers.
Barring those in green and gold, a packed house at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard cheered each Fiji attack and every single one of the 18 penalties awarded against the Australians.
— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) September 17, 2023
A try from centre Josua Tuisova and five penalties did the damage on the scoreboard and the Fijians backed their steely defence to keep the desperate Wallabies out in a dramatic last 10 minutes.
“It’s history for us, I just want to thank the boys,” said Tuisova, who was named man of the match. “We treated this match as a final, it’s just incredible to win.”
Australia scored an opportunistic try through Mark Nawaqanitawase in the first half and had another from replacement Suliasi Vunivalu that made it a seven-point game 12 minutes from time.
They were second best at the breakdown, however, and coach Eddie Jones took demoralised fly half Carter Gordon off midway through the second half as the Wallabies struggled to break down the Fijian defence.
It was clear to Australia early on that this would be a proper Test match with Fiji piling huge pressure on their defence by alternating big runners up the middle with long balls out wide.
BREAKING: Fiji have beaten Australia for the first time since 1964 in Pool C of the Rugby World Cup 🇫🇯 📷🏉pic.twitter.com/c1wcMEBDtz
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) September 17, 2023
The Wallabies defence just about held but they conceded four penalties which Simione Kuruvoli, brought in for Frank Lomani as starting scrum half, banged over to give the Fijians a 12-8 lead at half-time.
Australia had opened the scoring through a penalty and grabbed the first try of the match in the 24th minute when scrum half Nic White kicked a 50-22 from turnover ball.
Nawaqanitawase snapped up the ball for a quick throw to centre Samu Kerevi, who charged towards the line before offloading for the winger to stroll over and touch down.
Fiji hit back straight after the break when Gordon and Nawaqanitawase left a box kick for each other and Tuisova simply took it on the bounce and raced 40 metres to score.
Kuruvoli converted to give Fiji a 19-8 lead before making way for Lomani, who added his team’s final penalty in the 66th minute.
Australia looked better after full back Ben Donaldson moved up to take over at fly half but Vunivalu’s late score was not enough and the Wallabies must now beat Wales in a huge clash next Sunday to avoid a likely first pool stage exit at the World Cup.
History has been made in Saint-Étienne! 🔥🇫🇯
For the first time in 69 years, Fiji beat Australia! 🤯
↳ Rugby World Cup 2023. Now Streaming. The Only Place to Watch Every Match. Ad-free. 4K UHD. Live & On Demand on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport.#StanSportAU #RWC2023 #AUSvFIJ pic.twitter.com/AifZhAZ5ad
— Stan Sport Rugby (@StanSportRugby) September 17, 2023