RWC2023: Simi Kuruvoli’s boot helps ‘best ever’ Flying Fijians beat Wallabies

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Prayers of elation . . . a jubilant Fiji after beating Australia 22-15
Prayers of elation . . . a jubilant Fiji after beating Australia 22-15 at the World Rugby Cup 2023 in France. Image: World Cup/TV1 screenshpot APR

By Iliesa Tora, RNZ Pacific sports reporter in Saint Etienne, France

The Flying Fijians won its Rugby World Cup Pool C match against Australia 22-15 in Saint Etienne with the team’s fourth choice kicker, Simione Kuruvoli, leading them.

And the win came after 69 long years since Fiji last defeated the Wallabies in 1954.

Kuruvoli, who is ranked behind the injured Caleb Muntz, Teti Tela and Frank Lomani as a kicker, started the game at halfback and was given the goal-kicking duties.

RUGBY WORLD CUP FRANCE 2023

He did not disappoint and his personal tally of 14 points ensured the Fijians managed to outpoint the Wallabies in the end, in a match that kept the 41,294 fans at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on their toes.

Head coach Simon Raiwalui called Kuruvoli into the starting line-up ahead of Lomani and the 24-year-old stamped his mark.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to start and the trust that was given to me by the coach and team management,” he said.

“It was a tense game and I just focused on my kicks to make sure that we were able to get the points needed.”

Fiji dominated
Fiji dominated the game — and in all facets of the game.

It was something similar to what they did against Wales in Bordeaux two Sundays ago.

The only difference is this time they were able to convert the statistical advantage into winning points in the end.

Fiji flyhalf Simione Kuruvoli
Fiji flyhalf Simione Kuruvoli . . . kickable options saw him stepping up to the mark, claiming crucial points. Image: WRC2023/RNZ Pacific

Kickable options saw Kuruvoli stepping up to the mark, claiming crucial points.

Coach Raiwalui said it was a great win and thanked the boys for sticking to the job at hand.

“We focused on Australia this week and the boys executed the game plan very well,” he said.

“Great to have the win but we are still building and will need to focus on the next one after this.

“Mostly proud of the boys. It’s not just for today, it’s a combination of work over time.

Two hard games next
“Two very hard games coming up. Let’s enjoy this win, will review tonight. I think a lot of the boys will be sore but super proud.”

Captain Waisea Nayacalevu thanked the players and fans for their support.

“Great team effort and the fans were fantastic,” he said. “Proud of the boys for the effort.”

The win means Fiji and Australia are tied in pool C with six points each.

Fiji will need to win both their remaining matches against Georgia and Portugal and hope that the Wallabies fall against Wales in their crunch match.

But that aside, the win over the Australians was celebrated by those who turned up, including Fijians who had flown in from Fiji, New Zealand, Australia and across Europe.

French fans who turned up to watch the game backed Fiji as they could be heard cheering for Fiji on the grandstand and they booed the Australians every time they were penalised in the match.

Australian Fijians say it was tough
The Australians had five Fijians in their line-up, with two of them, wingers Mark Waqanitawase and Suliasi Vunivalu, scoring their tries.

Samu Kerevi, Rob Valetini and Marika Koroibete were strong in defence and made some good runs but they were nullified by their fellow Fijians, who hit them with some bone-crunching tackles.

Vunivalu congratulated Fiji and said they were consistent.

“They started well and kept that throughout,” he said.

“We tried to come back, but they were very strong.”

Koroibete said it was a physical battle.

“They were on from the start to the end, we tried to keep up with them from the start but they were good,” he said.

“As a team we did not work upfront enough to counter that physicality.”

He said they will now have to focus on Wales.

Fiji head coach Simon Raiwalui
Fiji head coach Simon Raiwalui (left) . . . “Great to have the win but we are still building and will need to focus on the next one after this.” WRC23 screenshot APR

Best Fiji team ever – Serevi
Sevens King Waisale Serevi, who was in the crowd supporting Fiji, said the Flying Fijians team in France was the best ever.

“I think it is the best team ever to play at the World Cup because we are going up and we have beaten Australia now,” he said.

“I believe that maybe we have won a game in the World Cup and going to the quarter-final, we still have two more games and the way we played today showed they can compete on this level.

“The Australia team are a good team, but I think the [Fiji] boys were better today.

“They played to the plan, they played to the strengths of the game they wanted to play. They did everything right and they did compete at the breakdown which is not really the Fijian way of playing rugby.

“I believe with the team that we have we can go through to the quarter-final and we have every opportunity to get to the semi-final.”

First half lead set the pace
Fiji led at halftime 12-8 with halfback Kuruvoli kicking all of Fiji’s points through the boots.

Australia managed a try to Waqanitawase, after the Wallabies had taken a quick lineout throw, with Samu Kerevi running through and passing on to Waqanitawase who dived over.

Fullback Ben Donaldson missed the conversion, but he had opened the scoring in the game with an earlier penalty close to the posts.

Australia was able to defend well against the Fijians in the first 40 minutes, keeping their opponents at bay inside their own half.

Fiji put together several phases and attacks in the first spell, with Kuruvoli masterminding their moves.

Josua Tuisova, Semi Radradra and captain Nayacalevu were all busy on attack while the forwards dominated in the ruck and scrum situations.

A telling factor Fiji displayed was their strong forward plays, holding their own in the scrums and lineouts as well.

But Australia challenged their throw-ins towards the end of the first spell and won two successive Fijian throw-ins near their own line.

Good start in second spell
The Fijians got straight back into the game in the second spell and Man of the Match, winger Tuisova scored out wide after he collected a bouncing ball from a Kuruvoli place kick off the base of a ruck.

They then missed a penalty attempt from Lomani and Tuisova swung the ball wide and out the sideline as they had an opportunity to run the ball with four players sitting outside him.

It was tit-for-tat after that as both teams tried to put phases together.

A penalty midway inside the Wallabies side of the field gave Lomani another opportunity to extend their lead and he made it 22-8 from that kick.

Australian fullback Ben Donaldson converted Vunivalu’s try and closed the gap to 22-15.

Fiji hung on with some great steals in ruck-ball situations to end the game with the famous win, even though Lomani’s last kick sailed wide.

Scorecard:
Fiji 22 – Tries: Josua Tuisova (43′); Conv: Simione Kuruvoli (44′); Pens: Simione Kuruvoli (12′, 21′, 27′, 33′); Frank Lomani (66′).

Australia 15 – Tries: Mark Nawaqanitawase (23′), Suli Vunivalu (68′); Conv: Ben Donaldson (70′); Pens: Ben Donaldson (3′).

Other Pacific results:
Results in other Pacific matches at the World Cup were mixed with Manu Samoa defeating newcomers Chile 43-10 at Bordeaux in pool D while Tongan coach Toutai Kefu admitted his Ikale Tahi side had been outclassed 59-16 by top-ranked Ireland at Nantes in pool B.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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