SAINT-ETIENNE, France (AP) — Fiji defeated Australia 22-15 for the first time in 69 years and sent a jolt of joy rippling through the Rugby World Cup on Sunday.
The Fijians had to win to stay in the hunt for their first quarterfinal in 16 years, and lived to fight on while putting the heat back on Wales and Australia, who meet next Sunday. One of the trio won’t make it out of Pool C.
Famed for being rugby’s greatest ad-libbers, Fiji put the razzle-dazzle away and won in a very un-Fijian traditional way: Strong set-piece, breakdown domination, hard yards by the forwards, brick-wall defense, and relentless commitment for 80 minutes.
The Fijians were disciplined, composed and clinical in a heavily defensive game of few chances.
This result was not on the scale of Japan beating South Africa in 2015 or that much of an upset. This result was coming. Fiji crushed the Pacific Nations Cup. It pushed France close and toppled England at Twickenham in the warmups, then would have beaten Wales last weekend with even an ounce of luck in their pool opener.
Australia has brought to the Rugby World Cup its youngest squad in 20 years, a squad still learning how to win. A Fiji side that has been around the block several times gave the Wallabies a lesson that the Australians had given the Fijians in their previous 18 matches dating to 1961.
Australia badly missed three key injured players — captain Will Skelton, vice captain Tate McDermott and tighthead Taniela Tupou — but the Fijians had the majority backing of the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard crowd, who cheered every turnover and penalty for Fiji.
And they had lots to cheer.
Australia gave up 18 penalties, 11 at the breakdown.
Fiji put four of those penalties between the posts to lead 12-8 at halftime thanks to an unexpected goalkicker who enjoyed a dream start. Simone Kuruvoli, who rarely kicks for the Fijian Drua in Super Rugby, was picked ahead of Frank Lomani and nailed all four of his penalties at goal, plus the sideline conversion of Josua Tuisova’s try.
Kuruvoli limped off and was replaced by Lomani who made only one of his three goalkicks, but it was enough.
Australia scored two tries, from smart thinking by Mark Nawaqanitawase in the first half and replacement wing Suliasi Vunivalu in the second to earn a losing bonus point that could be important.