Fiji grind past Georgia, edge closer to Rugby World Cup QFs

By Lobsang DS Subirana

Sports Desk, Sep 30 (EFE).- With the clock in red, a loose ball teetering over their five-meter line and a desperate footrace to reach it, Fiji held their breaths.

Many had been the scares throughout a breathless match, vast the disappointments of past world cup campaigns and massive the expectations on a team that made history by beating Australia just a fortnight before.

“Rugby is rugby, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Fiji’s Levani Botia said after the match.

And what happened must have pleased the openside flanker as he looked on impotently, when fullback Ilaisa Droasese won the sprint against Georgian fly-half Luka Matkava and the match for the Flying Fijians.

Coach Simon Raiwalui’s men beat Georgia 17-12 on Sunday in Bordeaux at the Rugby World Cup and edged ever closer to qualifying for the tournament’s quarterfinals, in a match that Fiji trailed by nine points at half time and exposed their old lineout problems anew.

And yet, they now sit second in Pool C, needing only a losing bonus point from their fixture against Portugal next weekend to make the knockout stages for the first time in 16 years.

Georgia controlled the early passages of play, dominating both territory and possession in Fiji’s half. They fired their first warning when a backline move at the edge of the Fiji 22-meter-line created a two-on-one that openside winger Akaki Tabutsadze knocked on just meters from the line.

The Pacific Islanders looked hurried and kicked erratically, unable to clear their lines as they failed to find touch on multiple occasions. The Lelos, on the other hand, reaped the reward for their good work, as Matkava put his team three points up when Botia went off his feet.

Georgia, who had already come into the match with the loss of No. 8 Beka Gorgadze, suffered another two injury blows to their pack, when hooker Tengizi Zamtaradze and lock Lasha Jaiani went off within five minutes from each other.

But it didn’t motivate Fiji, who missed a penalty in front of the posts, as scrum-half Simione Kuruvoli ended his 100-percent kicking record when the ball sailed wide to the right. At the other end, Georgian blindside winger Davit Niniashvili scored twice from over the halfway line to extend Los Lelos’ lead yet again.

Fiji’s errors compounded, blighting their red-zone efficiency despite sustained possession spells in the Lelos’ half. This was epitomized by a sprint from openside winger Selestino Ravutaumada, who carried from just inside Georgia’s half to the five-meter line, before the ensuing passage of play resulted in a knock-on.

Their lineout began to misfire, as Raiwalui’s men were winning just over half of their throws, and even as play became loose – which Fiji would have normally welcomed – Georgia rose to the occasion with some flair of their own.

Captain Waisea Nayacalevu put Droasese in space with an offload close to the halfway line and the fullback darted infield, where Niniashvili tackled him near the 22-meter line. Legs swung at the ensuing breakdown until the pill was thumped back deep into Fiji’s half, where a scramble for the ball fell to Tabutsadze, who ran in a try – just after English referee Karl Dickson had stopped play for a knock on.

The message from coach Levan Maisashvili’s men was clear: they were going to fight fire with fire if need be, and as the second half began, Georgia threatened to spread the blaze.

“To be fair to Georgia, they controlled that first half and potentially could have gone into half time with a bigger score,” Raiwalui said during his post-match press conference. “We needed to match them better.”

Fiji’s talismanic blindside winger Semi Radradra saw a yellow card following a deliberate knock-on, which the Lelos exploited by flinging the ball wide to Niniashvili, who stepped inside and was only just stopped short of the line.

He would rue his missed chance almost immediately, as Fiji began to find their footing at the other end of the field.

Substitute scrum-half Frank Lomani threaded a long ball off a five-meter ruck to center Josua Tuisova, who quickly passed it wide for Nayacalevu to finish acrobatically in the corner. Lomani curled in the conversion and brought his team to within two, as an air of inevitability began to permeate the Stade de Bordeaux.

It wasn’t long before the Flying Fijians compounded the pressure on Georgia’s half to draw a penalty that Lomani only just converted, despite wildly miskicking the ball. It was a symbolic score that put the island nation ahead for the first time, and it wasn’t long before they consolidated their lead.

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