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History in the making

Opinions / Analysis

IT is 69-years in the making for the Flying Fijians, but the wait is well worth it.

The emphatic 22-15 win against Australia in the Rugby World Cup in Saint-Etienne, France is one to savor.

And with six Fijian converts in the Wallabies lineup, the faithful wore their hearts on their sleeve for the historic victory.

At stake, pride and patriotism over the purse.

While the backdrop at Saint-Etienne wowed at every play, tackles to try, Fijians world over rejoiced simply because a country small as it is, was on the forefoot against a continent that is light years ahead in the sport had its players and fans wrap their heads in their arms at the final whistle

What traversed the Fijians to bring their A-game against Australia was the fact they lost 32-26 to Wales last Sunday, and a nation to play for.

It was also about the must win to have them stay in the hunt for their first quarterfinal in 16 years.

For Fiji the two most powerful warriors were patience and time.

It all accentuated with the first kick, and at the back of it all was Fiji’s last victory in 1954, at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Show of all shows

In the razzle-dazzle performance the team won in a very un-Fijian traditional way:

Breakdown domination, brick-wall defence, 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.

"I told the boys, today is our final," captain Waisea Nayacalevu said.

"Today will determine whether we want to go up to the quarters, so the mindset was do or die, do our best, fight to the end and the result will take care of itself."

A Fiji side that has been around the block several times gave the two-time champion Wallabies their first Rugby World Cup loss to a Pacific Island team.

"They outplayed us at the ruck," Wallabies coach Eddie Jones said.

"For some reason we were just off today. We were a poor version of ourselves. There is some soul searching to do and it makes the Wales game pretty important."

Fiji put four penalties between the posts to lead 12-8 at halftime thanks to an unexpected goalkicker who enjoyed a dream start.

Simione Kuruvoli, who rarely kicks for the Fijian Drua in Super Rugby, was picked ahead of Frank Lomani at scrumhalf and nailed all four of his penalty kicks, plus the sideline conversion of Tuisova's try.

Kuruvoli's box kick fell between four Australians and Tuisova grabbed the ball and raced to the line untouched.

Kuruvoli's extras made it 19-8 but he limped off moments later and was replaced by Lomani.

Lomani had three goalkicks to put Australia out of sight but nailed only one and it made a tense finish.

Kuruvoli said he's never kicked five from five before.

"To be honest, nah," he said. "I normally just do the scrum part and feed the balls but I don't have the kicking bit. I thank the coaches for trusting me. I was surprised today."

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.

Australia's two tries, from smart thinking by Fiji-heritaged Mark Nawaqanitawase in the first half and Fiji-born replacement wing Suliasi Vunivalu in the second half, earned a losing bonus point that could be vital.

"Class from Fiji. Mate, it was as expected," stand-in captain Dave Porecki said.

“They've got world-class players in the backline and they took advantage in and around the breakdown. We've got to lick our wounds and get ourselves up for (Wales), which is easy because it's a World Cup game."

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