OSAKA, 3 Oct – John McKee was full of praise for his Flying Fijians, who lived up to their name to post seven tries in their 45-10 victory over Georgia at the Hanazono Rugby Stadium on Thursday.
Though defeats by Australia and Uruguay earlier in the tournament hit Fiji’s hopes of progressing from Pool D, the victory edged McKee's team ahead of their opponents in the race for a third-place finish and automatic qualification for Rugby World Cup 2023.
"It was a long arm-wrestle in the first half, and very pleasing to see us finally show some of our flair and skills at this World Cup," McKee said. "It was a great team performance."
Among Fiji’s top performers, Player of the Match Semi Radradra scored twice and also set up tries for centre Waisea Nayacalevu and fellow winger Josua Tuisova. The Fijians crossed six times in the second-half after a scrappy first period, and even as the rain continued to fall, they backed themselves to run.
"Semi is a world-class player," McKee said of his winger. "He has been, by his standard, a little bit quiet at this World Cup, but showed today the quality that he can bring to the game."
Georgia dominated the territory in the opening exchanges and were happy to soak up the Fijian counter, which struggled to find room to move.
In the build-up to the match fly-half Ben Volavola insisted the Flying Fijians would have to apply some patience to their free-flowing style of rugby, and backed up his prediction with a delicate grubber kick to penetrate the Georgia defensive line for the first time in the opening quarter.
The ball was gathered by his wing, Radradra, who had to react quickly to set outside-centre Nayacalevu free for the opening try in the 20th minute. It was the longest wait any crowd has had at this Rugby World Cup for a team to break the deadlock.
Semi Radradra, @Mastercard Player of the Match for #GEOvFIJ— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 3, 2019
- Ran for 177 metres (most of the tournament so far)
- Had five clean breaks (most this match)
- Two tries (most this game)#StartSomethingPriceless #POTM #RWC2019 pic.twitter.com/NXAZs6UY7L
Nayacalevu looked clear again moments later as Fiji began to find openings. With the try-line in sight, the centre spilled forward in the wet conditions, though he will sleep a little easier knowing that the pass to him was judged to have gone forward.
In response, second-row Konstantine Mikautadze fumbled forward reaching for the line as the Georgians looked certain to score. Referee Paul Williams pulled the game back for a Fijian offside in the build-up, and fullback Soso Matiashvili made no mistake this time to slot the ball between the posts, having missed the target earlier in the half.
The score gave Georgia something to build on, but it was Fiji who came flying out of the blocks after half-time. Scrum-half Frank Lomani, who scored twice the last time Fiji played Georgia in June 2018, finished a classy passage of passing rugby.
Volavola was unable to convert from the left touchline, though he played an integral role in Fiji’s third try moments later, using the decoy to release Radradra circling round from the blindside to set up his fellow winger, the Olympian Tuisova, to cross on the opposite flank.
Fiji were beginning to move through the gears, but they were pegged back immediately from the restart after Georgia capitalised on a lapse in concentration. Second-row Tevita Cavubati misjudged the flight of the ball, Georgia kept their nerve and finally shoved openside-flanker Mamuka Gorgodze over the try-line.
But the Fijian wings continued to cause havoc. Radradra, another one of Fiji’s accomplished Sevens stars, stepped on the gas to cut through the gaping Georgian defence to bring up Fiji’s bonus-point try and the Fijian supporters to their feet.
Kunatani then became the second Olympian to cross for Fiji, cutting in off a Volavola switch, before replacement second-row Ratuniyarawa and Radradra ran in for Fiji’s sixth and seventh tries to round off the victory.
Georgia coach Milton Haig said that Fiji were hard to contain once they had the wind in their sails, though he urged his team to stay positive for their clash against Australia in Shizuoka on 11 October.
"If we want to gain automatic qualification, we have to win that,” Haig said.
"We have an eight-day turnaround and have to make sure that we feel disappointed together and look forward to the game against Australia next Friday."