SAINT-ETIENNE, France (AP) — Fiji defeated Australia 22-15 for the first time in 69 years and sent a jolt of euphoria through the Rugby World Cup on Sunday.
A week after an agonizing loss to Wales when the last pass was spilled with the tryline open, the Fijians had to win in Saint-Etienne to stay in the hunt for their first quarterfinal in 16 years. They 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: Breakdown domination, brick-wall defense, and relentless commitment for 80 minutes.
The Fijians were disciplined, composed and clinical in a heavily defensive game of few chances. Flanker Levani Botia and inside back Josua Tuisova led them with three turnovers each.
“I’m emotionally drained,” said Simon Raiwalui, Fiji’s coach only since February. “I couldn’t be prouder.”
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. Fiji came to the Rugby World Cup ranked higher than pool rivals Australia and Wales, and would have beaten Wales last weekend with even an ounce of luck.
Fiji has time to celebrate its first win over Australia since 1954 in Sydney. It has a two-week break before meeting Georgia, then finishes against Portugal.
All of South Africa’s plans came together. The first objective was achieved in a thumping win with hat tricks by scrumhalf Cobus Reinach and wing Makazole Mapimpi among 12 tries without reply in Bordeaux.
The defending champions had the first four of their tries and a bonus point inside 12 minutes, and Reinach's third try in the 24th minute just missed breaking his own record for the fastest hat trick at the Rugby World Cup. He set that four years ago with three in 20 minutes against Canada.
Away from the convincing result, South Africa also made big gains with a series of experiments. At least one of them might have a significant impact for the business end of the tournament, starting with South Africa’s next pool game, a huge showdown with top-ranked Ireland next weekend.
Ireland showed it’s ready by mauling Tonga 59-16 on Saturday.
One of the experiments to play four scrumhalves went well. Grant Williams, a scrumhalf on the wing, collected two tries. Faf de Klerk, yet another scrumhalf, came on as flyhalf and ran the backline for the last 24 minutes.
And Deon Fourie, a flanker who switched to reserve hooker, marked his Rugby World Cup debut at the age of 36 with a try. Fourie was in the midst of the scrum that won a penalty try soon after. His display may have caused the South Africa coaches to replace injured and departed hooker Malcolm Marx with flyhalf Handre Pollard, knowing Fourie can back up their only specialist No. 2 Bongi Mbonambi
England wore down Japan and scored a bizarre try to break open a kickfest and roll to a second straight pool victory.
With Japan trailing only 13-12 nearing the hour mark in Nice, the odd try gave England breathing space.
Flyhalf George Ford’s pass glanced off prop Will Stuart’s arm backwards and ricocheted forwards off prop Joe Marler’s mohawk into the grateful hands of captain Courtney Lawes who walked in between the posts. Ford’s conversion made it 20-12.
Moments later, Japan cut through England’s defense but knocked on with the line in sight and momentum was lost. England’s third try soon followed, when Ford's crosskick was caught by fullback Freddie Steward who twisted into the corner.
Good work from right winger Jonny May finished with center Joe Marchant going over for the bonus-point fourth try.
Coach Steve Borthwick’s England is not playing well and kicking too much, but is in pole position to win Pool D.
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The Associated Press