Eddie Jones’ World Cup campaign with Australia is in disarray after the former England head coach admitted his injury-hit team deserved to lose to an inspired Fiji side in Saint-Etienne.
Jones saw his Wallabies outplayed by the Pacific Islanders who have blown the race to qualify for the quarter-finals from Pool C wide open.
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 defence, and relentless commitment for 80 minutes.
Australia must now beat Wales in Lyon on Sunday to realistically keep their hopes of reaching the knock-out stages alive.
A loss to Warren Gatland’s side would leave Jones’ men almost certainly facing an early exit. Jones had claimed in the build-up to France his team would win the World Cup.
Jones – who returned to Australia after being sacked by England last December – also has severe fitness issues in his squad. Captain Will Skelton was a late withdrawal from the Fiji game with a calf problem while his fellow key forward Taniela Tupou has a knee issue. Both players have been ruled out of the Wales game already.
Josua Tuisova scored for Fiji, who managed to overcome Australia with a shock victory in the Rugby World Cup
The impressive Simione Kuruvoli celebrated after scoring a penalty during Sunday’s clash
Wallabies head coach Eddie Jones accepted the blame for the defeat and congratulated Fiji on their surprise victory
‘It was a thoroughly deserved victory for Fiji,’ said Jones. ‘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.’
After two rounds, Wales are top of Pool C with a perfect 10-point haul. Fiji and Australia are both on six behind them and bonus points look set to be crucial when it comes to who will qualify for the quarter-finals.
Fiji secured two losing bonus points in their controversial defeat by Wales. Frank Lomani’s late missed penalty in Saint-Etienne meant Australia at least took home a point from their Fiji loss by finishing within seven points of their opposition.
Jones’ side were second best. They conceded a mammoth 18 penalties to allow Simione Kuruvoli to kick four penalties. In powerhouses Josua Tuisova and Levani Botia, Fiji had world-class performers at their best.
Tuisova scored a crucial second-half try after Australia failed to claim a high kick. Jones admitted the Wales game is now do or die for Australia.
‘We are disappointed. I’m really pleased for Fiji. The great thing about World Cups is it’s not the end of the road. I apologise. It’s my fault. I take responsibility,’ he said. ‘I’ve no doubt we’ll get a response.’
Mark Nawaqanitawase scored for Australia but his efforts were in vein as his side suffered defeat on the day
Australia: Tries: Nawaqanitawase, Vunivalu. Cons: Donaldson. Pens: Donaldson.
Australia: Donaldson, Nawaqanitawase, Petaia, Kerevi,
Koroibete, C. Gordon, White, Bell, Porecki, Slipper, Frost,
Skelton, T. Hooper, McReight, Valetini.
Replacements: Foketi for Kerevi (66), Vunivalu for C. Gordon (50), Fines-Leleiwasa for White (57), Schoupp for Bell (78), Uelese for Porecki (59), Nonggorr for Slipper (57), Leota for McReight (49).
Not Used: R. Arnold.
Fiji: Tries: Tuisova. Cons: Kuruvoli. Pens: Kuruvoli 4, Lomani.
Fiji: Droasese, Wainiqolo, Nayacalevu Vuidravuwalu, Tuisova,
Radradra, Tela, Kuruvoli, Mawi, Matavesi, Tagi, Nasilasila,
Cirikidaveta, Tagitagivalu, Botia, Mata.
Replacements: Habosi for Wainiqolo (42), Botitu for Tuisova (66), Lomani for Kuruvoli (47), Ravai for Mawi (50), Ikanivere for Matavesi (50), Doge for Tagi (51), Mayanavanua for Nasilasila (66), Tuisue for Botia (59).
This was Fiji’s first win over Australia since 1954. They dominated the collisions thanks to the physicality of the likes of Tuisova and Botia.
‘It’s history for us. We gave everything to win this game,’ said Tuisova. ‘We took this game as a final. Winning this game is incredible.’
Fiji captain Waisea Nayacalevu saw his team just miss out on a comeback win against Wales but then respond against Australia. ‘I told the boys today was our final,’ he said. It was do or die.’
Kuruvoli’s boot meant Fiji led 12-8 at the break. Australia were lucky to have a try given. Richie Arnold stole possession, but although he played the ball on the ground, he was not penalised by referee Andrew Brace.
The Australia players were dejected at full time and face an uphill task to qualify from their Pool in the competition
Suli Vunivalu scored a try late on for Australia but it wasn’t enough to prevent Fiji from winning the game
Fiji’s Tevita Ikanivere, Ilaisa Droasese and Samuel Matavesi led the celebrations at the end of the game
Nic White then executed a brilliant 50:22 kick. Mark Nawaqanitawase chased forward and took the line-out quickly before going over himself despite his throw seemingly not going five metres.
Tuisova’s second-half effort was the key moment as Jones missed the chance to move level with Wales head coach Gatland at the top of the list for most World Cup wins with 16.
Jones had been booed by the French crowd and hooked his young playmaker Carter Gordon early in the second half. His team did get on the comeback trail through Simione Kuruvoli as Fiji tried their best to throw it away in a dramatic finale which saw their line-out fall to bits. But Semi Radradra – whose spilled ball arguably cost Fiji victory against Wales – made amends with a brilliant late breakdown penalty win to stop Australia in their tracks.
Nayacalevu then produced a clean line break to make the game safe. Had Lomani kicked three points with the game’s last play, it would have meant no losing bonus point for Australia but that didn’t stop raucous Fiji celebrations at the final whistle.