Fiji beat Australia for first time in 69 years to leave Wallabies RWC hopes hanging by a thread

SAINT ETIENNE – The Wallabies face a win-or-die pool C clash with Wales in Lyon next weekend after they were battered in the breakdown and conquered out wide by a brilliant Fiji 22-15 at the World Cup on Monday (AEST).

Fiji hadn’t beaten Australia since 1954, six years before Eddie Jones was born.

Fiji, needing to win to stay alive, destroyed the Wallabies in all facets and exposed a lack of experience in the Australian ranks, especially at No.10 where Carter Gordon had a miserable afternoon, and was taken off on 49 minutes.

Eddie Jones, through his own design, had no one of experience to right the ship – needing Ben Donaldson to step up for the playmaking duties down the stretch.

But it was a Fiji masterclass in the tight that proved the key difference.

As Australia chased down the game with a 19-8 deficit as the game went into the final quarter, Australia got into the Fijian 22 and in excellent attacking positions only to concede three penalties in less than five minutes.

Every Fijian penalty win was greeted by huge cheers and if there were neutral fans at kick off in the 41,492 crowd they were solidly behind the Fijians down the stretch.

Australia’s build up to the game has been seriously affected by injuries, with Taniela Tupou and Will Skelton ruled out in the leadup – the skipper’s absence only confirmed an hour beforehand even though leaks suggested he was never a chance to play.

We’ll have to wait for the insider Stan documentary to work out what all the smoke and mirrors were about – because you won’t get a straight answer out of Jones or his coaching staff.

While the Australian scrum held its own, the Fijians asked physical questions everywhere and right from the start.

They brought Josua Tuisova in at No.12 and he targeted a disappointing Gordon, while fast hands looked to expose the Australians on the flanks with long passes to wingers with chalk on their heels.

Referee Andrew Brace gave two penalties for high hits by Fii in the opening two minutes and the second led to Ben Donaldson kicking the first points of the game.

The Wallabies held on in the opening waves of Fijian attacks but Fiji were back on level terms in 10 minutes when Richie Arnold was caught on wrong side of the ruck. Brace went early with the penalty as Simione Kuruvoli passed the ball into Arnold. He had charged through and was tryline bound but had to settle for three points instead.

Soon after Gordon ran into the brick wall of Eroni Mawi, the first of two occasions in the first half where he had the ball jolted out of his hands by brutal defence in a difficult evening.

The step up in pace and intensity from the Wallabies opener against Georgia was marked, with Fiji outpacing the Aussies in the breakdown, and the error count mounting. Nic White, in for Tate McDermott, drove a long kick dead in goal but redeemed himself soon after.

With the Wallabies 6-3 down after another precision Kuruvoli kick, Australia produced a masterstroke of a try to hit the front.

Richie Arnold caused havoc in a breakdown, the ball popped out to White who drove a superb kick deep towards the Fiji line for a 50-22.

Chasing the ball in touch, Mark Nawaqanitawase wrestled away from an opponent. He took a quick lineout to Samu Kerevi who charged forward and flicked a pass back inside for Marky Mark to steam over.

“This is the one you dream about. You talk about this happening – if we get a 50-22 we’ll play this play and it never comes off,” said former skipper Michael Hooper on Stan Sport. “It’s come off here. I love the intent by the Wallabies to all be around. There’s four Wallabies in the picture and only one Fijian. I really love that.

“Marky’s running so hot on confidence. A lot of teams are looking to do this – whether they can execute is the challenge. We did that tonight. I love that.”

Two more penalties saw Fiji go into the rooms up 12-8 at the break and they charged ahead with a moment that would have left Jones raging.

A high box kick from the excellent Kuruvoli was allowed to bounce as Gordon, White and Nawaqanitawase got in each other’s ways. Josua Tuisova claimed the bouncing ball and charged over.

Tuisova, though really should have iced the game on 51 minutes as Fiji had a six on three overlap down the left but the giant centre threw a wild pass into touch.

It could have been the moment to match Semi Radradra’s fumble with the line open in the loss to Wales as the Wallabies fought desperately to get back into the match.

Down 22-8 they came time and again only to be denied by excellent defence and Brace’s whistle.

With 10 minutes to go Suli Vunivalu scooped up a ball after a Dave Proecki surge and went over. Donaldson’s conversion meant Australia could level with a converted try, but the Fijians had enough.

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