Eddie Jones’ World Cup campaign with Australia is in disarray after the former England head coach admitted his injury-hit side deserved to lose to an inspired Fiji side in Saint-Etienne.
Jones saw his Wallabies dominated by the Pacific Islanders who fell short in the race to qualify for the quarter-finals of wide-open Pool C.
Australia must now beat Wales in Lyon on Sunday to realistically keep alive their hopes of reaching the last 16.
A defeat to Warren Gatland would leave Jones’ men almost certainly facing an early exit. Jones had claimed during France’s preparation that his team would win the World Cup.
Jones – who returned to Australia after being sacked by England last December – also has serious fitness issues in his squad. Captain Will Skelton withdrew late from the match against Fiji with a calf problem while compatriot Taniela Tupou has a knee problem. Both players have already been ruled out of the Wales game.
Josua Tuisova scored for Fiji, who managed to overcome Australia with a shock victory at the Rugby World Cup
Impressive Simione Kuruvoli celebrated after scoring a penalty in Sunday’s clash
Wallabies head coach Eddie Jones accepted responsibility for the defeat and congratulated Fiji on their surprise victory.
“It was a very deserved win for Fiji,” Jones said. “They dominated us, especially in the ruck. They made three times as many turnovers as us and in a close match, that’s the difference. For some reason we were just leaving.
“If you look at the stats, we dominated and scored two tries to one, but we weren’t quite ourselves, so there’s going to be some soul-searching. That makes the Wales game quite important.
After two rounds, Wales lead Pool C with a perfect total of 10 points. Fiji and Australia are both six behind them and bonus points look crucial in determining who advances to the quarter-finals.
Fiji earned two bonus points in their controversial defeat to Wales. Frank Lomani’s late missed penalty in Saint-Etienne gave Australia at least a point after their defeat in Fiji by finishing seven points behind their opponents.
Jones’ team was second. They conceded a colossal 18 penalties to allow Simione Kuruvoli to take four penalties. With powerhouses Josua Tuisova and Levani Botia, Fiji boasted world-class players at their best.
Tuisova scored a crucial try in the second half after Australia failed to claim a high kick. Jones admitted the match against Wales was now a matter of make or die for Australia.
” We are disappointed. I’m really happy for Fiji. The great thing about World Cups is that it’s not the end of the road. I apologize. It’s my fault. I take responsibility for that,” he said. “I am confident we will get an answer.”
Mark Nawaqanitawase scored for Australia, but his efforts were fruitful as his team suffered a defeat on the day.
Australia: Essays: Nawaqanitawase, Vunivalu. Cons: Donaldson. Pens: Donaldson.
Australia: Donaldson, Nawaqanitawase, Petaia, Kerevi,
Koroibete, C. Gordon, White, Bell, Porecki, Slipper, Frost,
Skelton, T. Hooper, McReight, Valetini.
Substitutes: Foketi for Kerevi (66), Vunivalu for C. Gordon (50), Fines-Leleiwasa for White (57), Schoupp for Bell (78), Uelese for Porecki (59), Nonggorr for Slipper (57), Leota for McReight ( 49).
Not used: R. Arnold.
Fiji: Essays: Tuisova. Disadvantages: Kuruvoli. Pens: Kuruvoli 4, Lomani.
Fiji: Droasese, Wainiqolo, Nayacalevu Vuidravuwalu, Tuisova,
Radradra, Tela, Kuruvoli, Mawi, Matavesi, Tagi, Nasilasila,
Cirikidaveta, Tagitagivalu, Botia, Mata.
Substitutes: Habosi for Wainiqolo (42), Botitu for Tuisova (66), Lomani for Kuruvoli (47), Ravai for Mawi (50), Ikanivere for Matavesi (50), Doge for Tagi (51), Mayanavanua for Nasilasila (66), Tuisue for Botia (59).
It was Fiji’s first victory against Australia since 1954. They dominated the collisions thanks to the physicality of Tuisova and Botia.
“It’s history for us. We gave everything to win this match,” Tuisova said. “We took this match as a final. To win this match is incredible.
Fiji captain Waisea Nayacalevu saw his side narrowly miss out on a win against Wales but then responded against Australia. “I told the boys today was our final,” he said. It was do or die.
Kuruvoli’s goal meant Fiji led 12-8 at the break. Australia were lucky to have a try. Richie Arnold stole possession, but despite playing the ball on the ground he was not penalized by referee Andrew Brace.
Australia’s players have been depressed at full time and face an uphill task to qualify from their pool in the competition.
Suli Vunivalu scored a late try for Australia, but it was not enough to prevent Fiji from winning the match.
Fiji’s Tevita Ikanivere, Ilaisa Droasese and Samuel Matavesi led the celebrations at the end of the match.
Nic White then executed a brilliant 50:22 kick. Mark Nawaqanitawase rushed forward and quickly lined out before passing himself despite his throw not appearing to go five yards.
Tuisova’s second-half effort was the key moment as Jones missed the chance to move closer to Wales head coach Gatland, who tops the list for most World Cup wins. world with 16.
Jones had been booed by the French crowd and hooked his young playmaker Carter Gordon early in the second half. His team effectively embarked on the comeback trail through Simione Kuruvoli as Fiji did their best to spoil it in a dramatic finale which saw their line-up fall to pieces. But Semi Radradra – whose spilled ball arguably cost Fiji victory against Wales – made amends with a brilliant penalty victory to stop Australia in their tracks.
Nayacalevu then made a clean line break to secure the match. Had Lomani scored three points on the final play of the match, it would have meant no loss of bonus points for Australia, but that did not stop Fiji’s raucous celebrations at the final whistle.