RWC 2019 Pool Game 21: Flying Fijians back on song to demolish Lelos

Fiji have made some amends for their shock loss to Uruguay, seeing off a brave first half effort from Georgia to run in seven tries in a 45-10 victory in rain-soaked Osaka.

The weather made for tricky handling conditions in an opening stanza that saw neither side gain the upper hand, with the Fijians just four points up at the break. But they turned on the style in the second half, superstars Semi Radrada, Josua Tuisova, and Levani Botia cutting the Lelos apart to earn the bonus point, and provide some solace for the disappointment of Kamaishi.

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The heavy rain falling in eastern Osaka suggested the Georgian dressing room would be the happier of the two before kick-off, with any chance to slow the Fijians down in open field and back their set-piece a welcome one, although the idea that a Polynesian team can’t throw a wet ball around would be a tad ignorant based on the weather patterns of the south Pacific. And it was they who looked to strike early, the hulking frame of Levani Botia blasting through the line, but his outside runners running out of room to finish the job.

All eyes were on the first scrum six minutes in, the Georgian pack licking their lips at the opportunity to feast on some fresh meat. But their predicted dominance didn’t take flight, Fiji more than holding their own – for now.

A penalty for no arms in the tackle then gave the Lelos their own chance to concoct something in the opposition 22. But again the Fijians were up to the task up front, working in tandem to quell a lineout drive, and a breakdown penalty gifting them an easy exit.

A second scrum did go the way of the Georgians, and after another lineout maul was well marshalled, a needless high tackle from Semi Kunatani gave them a shot at the posts, only for fullback Soso Matiashvili to pull his attempt wide. That miss was keenly felt a couple of minutes later when Fiji opened the scoring. A clever grubber kick in behind from Ben Volavola bounced kindly for the alert Semi Radrada to steal in ahead of a couple of hesitant Georgians, and he fired inside for Waisea Nayacalevu to run it in from 30 metres.

Georgian discipline went astray for the next 10 minutes, with a couple of high shots, a man taken in the air, and breakdown infringements cruelling their chances of a quick response, whilst gifting their opponents with plenty of possession with which to assume control of the contest. But their passion and commitment in defence was keeping them in touch.

Generic roles were reversed on the half hour, Fiji winning a scrum penalty, and Georgia turning it over to go the length of the field through the hands but knock-on over the line. Play came back for an earlier penalty,¬†Matiashvili successful this time, and Josua Tuisova rather fortunate to stay on the field for a glancing blow to the forehead of Alexander Todua. He was dipping into the tackle, but let’s just say that lesser acts of ill discipline in this tournament have received far greater punishment.

The second half started with a couple of Georgians the worse for wear after heavy contact, causing coach Milton Haig to reshuffle his deck while protocol was followed. But there wasn’t much his on-field side could do to stop Fiji scoring a second try on 44 minutes.

A lineout play one one side of the field was well defended, but Volavola shifted it quickly to the opposite flank, where a lovely reverse pass from fullback Kini Murimurivalu sent the dangerous Radrada down the wing, and he had scrumhalf Frank Lomani running a great support line to crash over.

The former Parramatta Eel was at it again five minutes later, utilising a couple of decoy runners to hit a pass from Volavola at pace, and draw in defenders before releasing Tuisova for the corner. Volavola couldn’t add the extras, but the Pacific Islanders had built a handy 17-3 lead with half an hour to play.

With the game running away from them the Lelos needed to score next, but even they wouldn’t have expected to hit back from the restart. Fiji got their kick-off receipt all wrong, allowing Giorgi Kveseladze to glide in and feed replacement Beka Saginadze for a carry into the 22. And when the cavalry arrived and set about picking and driving their way forward metre by metre, who else than veteran Mamuka ‘Gorgodzilla’ Gorgodze was going to be the man to stretch for the line under a mesh of bodies, and drag his team back into the contest.

Matiashvili’s conversion brought them back to a one-score deficit, which should have been extended again when Fiji went back to their offloading game and Nayacalevu worked an overlap to free Tuisova for a run to the corner, only for the imposing Toulon winger to fluff his lines and drop it cold.

It didn’t take the Fijians long to target the outside channels again though, and this time Tuisova turned provider. He was the instigator of a wraparound play with Volavola that ended in the arms of Radrada, and there was no-one more deserving of a five-pointer than the flying winger, who put on the after-burners to cut back infield and race to the posts.

A well-placed grass-finder from the increasingly influential Volavola, backed up by a terrific kick-chase led by Nayacalevu, got Fiji straight back on the front-foot. And it was a testament to the belief they had in their pack that they chose to take a scrum, and that they continued to do so when the Georgians coughed up three penalties in a row on their own line. When Botia then scattered several Georgians to put the juggling Kunatani over for try number five, their perseverance was rewarded.

Unfortunately for Georgia there was more to come, and the Fijians were starting to have fun. Leone Nakarawa caught the kick-off and flicked it nonchalantly over a couple of Georgians to Radrada, who stepped inside and fed Lomani with one hand. The scrumhalf raced over halfway and jinked in and out to lose two defenders, before popping another pass over the top for replacement lock Api Ratuniyarawa to palm off one more and find the chalk. Absolutely superb, and uniquely Fijian.

Georgia were unravelling fast. They conceded another scrum penalty inside the Fijian 22 to lose an attacking platform, and then turned over ball in their own for Radrada to streak away and see off a gallant effort from Beka Gorgadze for his double.

That score took Fiji to the top of the try-scoring lists for the tournament. It also rubber-stamped an impressive display to back up the first 50 minutes against Australia in game one, and keep their interest alive ahead of the pivotal clash with Wales to come. If only they could have their time against Uruguay again…

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FIJI 45 (Semi Radrada 2, Waisea Nayacalevu, Frank Lomani, Josua Tuisova, Semi Kunatani, Api Ratuniyarawa tries; Ben Volavola 5 cons) defeated GEORGIA 10 (Mamuka Gorgodze try; Soso Matiashvili con, pen) HT 7-3 at Hanazono Stadium, Osaka

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