Fiji are on the verge of only their third appearance in a World Cup quarter-final after coming from behind to see off a spirited Georgia, leaving Eddie Jones’s Australia on the brink of elimination in the process. That they did not claim a bonus point means we cannot talk in certainties just yet but Fiji will not be complaining. This was a match that they looked like losing for large spells and it is a mark of their progress that they found a way to win it.
As a result, they are almost there and they may even be confirmed as quarter-finalists on Sunday depending on what happens between Australia and Portugal. If not, their fate is in their hands when they face the latter next week and, without doing a disservice to Portugal, it is little more than prolonging the agony for Jones and the Wallabies.
Truth be told, they never really looked like scoring four tries and that was in the main down to the doggedness of Georgia. When the final whistle went, to a man their players were strewn across the pitch, tanks emptied. They have been badly hit by injuries at this tournament but they made 199 tackles in total with Mikheil Gachechiladze contributing 25 of them himself.
Ultimately the Pacific islanders managed two tries, one an acrobatic finish from their captain, Waisea Nayacalevu, and one by the replacement Vinaya Habosi – after a moment of magic from Levani Botia – to close on a first appearance in the last eight since 2007.
They will have to make significant improvements for the knockout stages but winning ugly is en vogue at this tournament and Fiji demonstrated they are capable in that regard. England are likely to await in the last eight but Fiji’s head coach, Simon Raiwalui, is refusing to look that far ahead, hinting that doing so may have contributed to his side’s shaky start.
“I’m really just worried about Portugal coming up,” he said. “We’ve got to take care of business. If we look too far beyond that match we’ll slip over.”
Again Fiji’s lineout was erratic, their handling left plenty to be desired and a sense of panic seemed to take over from the moment they dropped the kick-off. Understandable, perhaps, given what was at stake, but they missed touch with their kicks, knocked the ball on and gave up two try-scoring opportunities that Georgia really ought to have taken. The first of those chances was gilt-edged – Davit Niniashvili shipping on to his fellow wing Akaki Tabutsadze, who inexplicably fumbled with the try-line beckoning. Had the fly-half Luka Matkava used the overlap on the left a few minutes later, Georgia would surely have had the opening try.
As it was he kicked a penalty, and the excellent Niniashvili another, in the first quarter to give Georgia a 6-0 lead as Fiji struggled to gather their composure. Niniashvili soon kicked Georgia further ahead and it might have been even better after the opening 40 minutes had Aka Tabutsadze’s try not been ruled out for a forward pass after a helter-skelter passage of play.
The half-time break did little to settle Fiji, nor quell Georgia’s appetite for defence and soon Semi Radradra was heading to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on. Sam Matavesi’s problems at the lineout continued but Nayacalevu finally got Fiji up and running on 50 minutes on the left. Frank Lomani had the chance to put them ahead with a penalty he really ought to have made but his kick clipped the outside of the right post. Radradra was back on the field by that point but he did not last long before limping off with injury – a concern for Fiji for the rest of their campaign.
With about 15 minutes remaining, Lomani had another go from the tee. This one barely got five feet above the height of the crossbar at any stage but there was enough on it to give Fiji the lead. Botia then showed his class with a fine break and delightful offload that allowed Habosi to splash over for the decisive try.
Josua Tuisova was sent to the sin-bin late on, which allowed Matkava to kick Georgia back to within a score, but despite a late break down the left Fiji held on. “We lost that game but I’m proud of my boys,” said Georgia’s coach, Levan Maisashvili. “Our message was to sacrifice ourselves and that was done.”