An important match for both sides for different reasons: after five defeats in a row coming into the Rugby World Cup, Eddie Jones’ injury-hit Australia will want to double-up on their clinical win over Georgia in the opening block of matches.
Simon Raiwalui’s side were fantastic in defeat against Wales in Bordeaux last Sunday, narrowly losing 32-26 in a game that could easily have gone the other way. It was, beyond doubt, the match of the opening block, and Fiji will have a point to prove as they look for a first win against the Wallabies since June 1954.
This has all the hallmarks of another thriller.
FIXTURE: Australia v Fiji
GROUND: Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne (42,060)
KICK-OFF: 17:45 local time (GMT+2)
This is the fourth time the two sides have met in the past five Rugby World Cups. In 2007, in Montpellier, Australia won 55-12; in 2015, in southwest Ireland, they won 28-13. And, four years ago, in Sapporo, the Wallabies won 39-21. They also won a 1999 RWC qualifying match in Sydney 66-20.
Fiji may be thinking it’s their time…
At the 2015 Rugby World Cup, these two sides were pitted against one another in Pool A alongside England, Wales and Uruguay. It was ‘the pool of death’ for that tournament, featuring four of World Rugby’s top 10 sides at the time.
Then-Australia coach Michael Cheika was therefore, understandably, delighted that his side won 28-13 - David Pocock scoring twice, Sekope Kepu adding a third, and Bernard Foley landing five of six shots at goal, to kick off an unbeaten pool phase and a run all the way to the final.
KEY TALKING POINT
Let’s discuss Australia’s depleted one-two-three. Wallaby front row stocks are looking pretty low for a four-week unbroken run of pool matches, with tighthead Taniela Tupou and Allan Alaalatoa also out.
The good news is James Slipper has recovered from the injury that kept him out of the opener against Georgia, and the final warm-up match against France. He swaps loosehead for tighthead; and Rebels hooker Jordan Uelese is on the bench after also recovering from injury.
There’s some concern, too, in the second row. Australia captain Will Skelton has been named in the starting line-up, despite pulling up with a calf injury in training.
James Slipper v Eroni Mawi. Speaking of Australia’s front-row issues... Slipper is hugely experienced, with 131 tests under his belt, including 75 starts.
But this is just his third international outing at tighthead - he was on the right side of the scrum in 2012 against the All Blacks in Brisbane, and again in 2021 against England at Twickenham.
Slipper won’t let his coach or his team down, but Fiji loosehead Mawi could cause him a few problems in a less-familiar role.
Everyone knows that Australia won the Rugby World Cup in 1999, becoming the first country to lift the Webb Ellis Cup twice. But did you know that they conceded just one try in that entire tournament? USA’s Zimbabwe-born centre Juan Grobler was the only player to find a way through their defensive line, in the 36th-minute of the two sides’ pool match at Munster’s Thomond Park.
Andrew Brace (Ireland). The central match official in Saint-Étienne on Sunday represented Belgium at rugby, winning the 2012 Emirates Cup of Nations with them, before injury ended his playing days and prompted him to take up the whistle.
AUSTRALIA Ben Donaldson; Mark Nawaqanitawase, Jordan Petaia, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete; Carter Gordon, Nic White; Angus Bell, David Porecki, James Slipper, Nick Frost, Will Skelton (captain), Tom Hooper, Fraser McReight, Rob Valetini
Replacements: Jordan Uelese, Blake Schoupp, Zane Nonggorr, Richard Arnold, Robert Leota, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Lalakai Foketi, Suli Vunivalu
FIJI Ilaisa Droasese; Jiuta Wainiqolo, Waisea Nayacalevu (captain), Josua Tuisova, Semi Radradra; Teti Tela, Simione Kuruvoli; Eroni Mawi, Samuel Matavesi, Luke Tagi, Isoa Nasilasila, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Lekima Tagitagivalu, Levani Botia, Viliame Mata
Replacements: Tevita Ikanivere, Peni Ravai, Mesake Doge, Temo Mayanavanua, Albert Tuisue, Frank Lomani, Vilimoni Botitu, Vinaya Habosi