The fact that the coaches and captains of both teams were cheered on by the journalists from their respective countries during their post-match press conferences said a lot about this match.
It was an exciting World Cup spectacle. But the bottom line is that this is the case. Following their comeback win, Fiji are now in pole position to qualify for the quarter-finals from Pool C alongside Wales.
A win over Portugal in their final group match would see them go through with Warren Gatland, but even that may not be necessary.
All indications now point to Fiji facing England in the last eight – a side they defeated at Twickenham in August. It means Eddie Jones’ Australia now stands on the brink of a humiliating exit.
The Wallabies can still qualify mathematically, but it’s the longest shot. Australia’s class of 2023 will now become the first class in the country’s proud rugby history to advance from the pool stages.
Davit Niniashvili was hugely impressive as Fiji secured a 17-12 victory against Georgia
Fiji’s victory means Eddie Jones’ Australia is on the verge of elimination from the World Cup
“I’m really just worried about Portugal,” said Fiji head coach Simon Raiwalui, who refused to look ahead to a possible England rematch.
Trying: Nayacalevu 51, Habosi 68
Cons: Lomani 52, 69
Pen: Lomani 65
Pens: Matkava 5, 80, Niniashvili 19,31
Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU)
Starman: Davit Niniashvili (Georgia)
‘We have to take every game as it comes. If we look too far past our next game, we’re going to make a mistake. We have to play our best rugby against Portugal.
“We weren’t as clinical as we were against Australia, but we live to fight another day.”
It was no surprise that Raiwalui did not want to comment on the possibility of facing England, especially as his team almost squandered a fantastic opportunity against Georgia.
Fiji has qualified for the knockout stages of the World Cup only twice before. Facing a heroic Georgian team that pushed themselves into oblivion, the Pacific Islanders almost came unstuck.
The Lelos were truly beautiful. In many ways it was cruel that they lost. These were two ambitious rugby nations who deserve more if the game’s authorities duke it out in a ding-dong battle.
It was fascinating rugby.
Georgia led 9-0 at half-time, with their outstanding full-back Davit Niniashvili kicking two monstrous penalties after Luka Matkava had opened the scoring.
Fiji were shocking in the first half. After narrowly losing to Wales and comfortably beating Australia, their first 40 on their return to Bordeaux was their worst of the tournament to date.
Fiji’s lineout was all over the place. They made countless mistakes.
Fiji’s victory means they have now all but secured their place in the quarter-finals
Georgia players show their frustration after their defeat against Fiji
“All credit to Georgia. They played very well in the first half, but we didn’t help ourselves. We were playing on the back foot, so the message was to get back to basics,” Raiwalui said.
‘We got beat and there were too many turnovers. Georgia is a really good team and we were lucky to come out with the result.”
Fiji’s volatility in the first half will certainly have been noticed by England coach Steve Borthwick.
All their points came in the second 40.
Captain Waisea Nayacalevu and Vinaya Habosi scored tries, with Frank Lomani kicking two conversions and a low penalty.
Georgia wasn’t helped by injury, losing two forwards in the first forty. But in Niniashvili they had a world-class artist. He vied with Fiji’s Levani Botia for the award for the best player on the field.
“It’s so disappointing when you fight so much but the fight is not enough for the result,” said Georgian head coach Levan Maisashvili.
Captain Waisea Nayacalevu scored acrobatically as Fiji secured victory
‘I can’t talk about the refereeing decisions and missed chances. What is important is the scoreboard at the end of the game. But I’m so proud of my boys.
‘There were two messages before the match: trust the system and sacrifice yourself. We’ve done both things. We lost to a great team. Fiji is not an average team. Congratulations to them. We played really hard, but it wasn’t enough for us.”
Georgia defeated both Italy and Wales in 2022 to almost claim their biggest ever World Cup victory.
After a bad start to the tournament, the Lelos showed what they can do here.
Georgia never went away and went looking for leather to the death as Fiji lost key men Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova to yellow cards in the second half.
Had Akaki Tabutsadze’s attempt not been ruled out for a forward pass at the end of the first half, Georgia would have gone into halftime 16-0. Fiji would have done well to reverse such a deficit.
As it was, the score was ruled out and Georgia was left to lick their wounds.
The fact that they stood proud and played their part in a brilliant World Cup match was probably little consolation. Matkava kicked a late penalty to ensure a losing bonus point and Georgia went bust in the final game with a brilliant attack, but Fiji did just enough.