By Nick Mulvenney
SAINT-ETIENNE (Reuters) -Fiji made a huge statement at the World Cup on Sunday with their first win over Australia for 69 years, a thoroughly deserved 22-15 victory that blew Pool C wide open and 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 to ease into second place in the pool.
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.
A converted try from centre Josua Tuisova and five penalty kicks 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.
“I thought the boys were outstanding today,” said Fiji coach Simon Raiwalui.
“Set piece was good, the carries were good. It was a good win against a very good Australia team.”
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 flyhalf Carter Gordon off midway through the second half as the Wallabies struggled to break down the Fijian defence.
“Obviously disappointed that we lost the game,” said Jones, who has led Australia to one win in seven tests this year.
“Congratulations to Fiji, they played really well, a deserved victory for them. I’m really pleased for them as a team.”
It was clear to Australia early on that this would be a proper test match with Fiji piling huge pressure on them by alternating big runners up the middle with long balls out wide.
The Wallabies defence just about held but they conceded four penalties which Simione Kuruvoli, brought in for Frank Lomani as starting scrumhalf, banged over to give the Fijians a 12-8 lead at halftime.
Australia had opened the scoring through an early penalty and grabbed the first try of the match in the 24th minute when scrumhalf 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.
“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.”
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 fullback Ben Donaldson moved up to take over at flyhalf but Vunivalu’s late score was not enough and the Wallabies must now beat Wales next week to avoid a first pool stage exit at the World Cup.
“It’s my fault. I take full responsibility for (the loss),” Jones added.
“We’ve got some work to do, we’ve got Wales next week and we need to kick some stones tonight.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, Editing by Toby Davis and Hugh Lawson)
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