Fiji flip New Zealand to sneak into semi-finals

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    Fiji have beaten New Zealand 4 – 2 in a thrilling quarter final in Wellington and booked themselves a match up against the Kangaroos in the semis.

    In the lead up to the game all expectations were that it would be an exciting game with some great attacking talent on show from both sides, but that at the end of the day the Kiwis would win and win well.

    How wrong we all were – on all of those points.

    In the end the game was an 80 minute arm wrestle with the Fijians always in the ascendancy but never able to strike a killer blow leaving the Kiwis always with a shot at sneaking the win.

    The Fijians got the first points early in the game with a penalty and in the first half had the bulk of possession and territory. They kept coming at the home side but interestingly they struggled to turn this possession into genuine scoring opportunities. But they didn’t panic – they kept pinning the Kiwis back deep in their own half and while the Fijis weren’t scoring, they were forcing the men in black to have to start their sets close to their own line and to make huge numbers of tackles.

    The question was would the New Zealanders eventually crack and let the Fijians in or would the Fijians run out of energy and allow the Kiwis back into the game?

    The Kiwis must have felt frustrated but relieved come halftime – they were 0-2 down and had not threatened at all in the first 40 minutes. On the upside they were only two points behind and had managed to withstand a huge amount of pressure from the Fijians.

    The home side needed to make a good start to the second half and they got this with an early penalty and successful goal to square things up. Was this the beginning of the comeback people thought? In one word – no!

    Just as the Kiwis were starting to make things happen Jordan Rapana gave away a professional foul and was sent to the bin for 10 minutes. Surely now the Fijians would turn pressure and the extra space into points!

    But again the game continued to be a real back and forth as both sides looked for gaps and space but could never turn half breaks into anything more than metres gained. The Kiwis continued to hold out in defence and conceded no points at all while being down to 12 men. Could this be the inspiration they needed to fight back?

    The Fijis showed they are well organised in defence in the second half when the Kiwis had a period of ball and put the visitors under pressure.

    However the Kiwi attack was never at its best and despite a number of players including Tuivasa-Sheck desperately searching for a way to break the line the Fijians stayed strong and scrambled well when needed.

    With 20 minutes left the Fijians choose to take another two points instead of risking another attempt at the try.

    The Kiwis knew they were going to have to make something happen now but everything they tried was either purely executed or easily dealt with by the Fijians who were growing in confidence and energy.

    The final 20 minutes were full of errors from both sides as the Kiwis searched for something, anything to get them back in the game. But they were never able to capitalise on any of the opportunities and despite having some of the best talent in the rugby league world they just looked flat.

    As the final few minutes ticked by the Fijians continued to do everything right. Good sets, deep kicks and solid defence that put the Kiwis under continual pressure. The game had shifted – instead of viewers waiting for the attacking talent to explode, everyone was on the edge of their seat wondering if a no try game just might be the most exciting game they had seen for a long time.

    New Zealand had some chances with just a few minutes left and forced a line drop out from the Fijians but in honesty the home side never really looked like scoring the much needed points.

    One late attack from the Kiwis was easily dealt with and the Fijians had a 7 tackle set with just a couple of minutes to go. They did all the right things – put the ball up the jumper and took every spare second possible in the play of the ball. They kicked deep again and as Tuivasa-Sheck tried to dance his way out of defence he just got caught and driven back meaning the Kiwis had one final shot and needed to go 95 metres to win the game. They didn’t. Johnson hoisted a hail mary bomb – Naiqama defused it easily and hit the grass knowing that he was going to lead his team into the semis!

    For the Fijians, they all played with so much heart. Hayne was especially impressive. He didn’t light up the game with his attack as much as viewers would have liked but his kicking and his control of the whole game was impressive. For a player who has had a lot of press this year about going missing in games and being selfish he really showed he can control entire games at the highest level.

    Sims too led from the front and did so much hard work – he got his team going forwards time after time and epitomised the effort and resolve that the Fijians clearly have to add to their attacking prowess.

    On the Kiwi side it was a big let down. Blair was absent for so much of the game and never set the tone for his team. Johnson too was poor – he has so much talent but in terms of controlling a game he was shown to be really lacking at this level. Tuivasa-Sheck tried to get himself into the game but even he was not at his best.

    In the end the Fijians were deserved winners – the score might suggest a very tight game but in reality the Bati always looked better than their more highly ranked opponents. New Zealand rugby league has a lot of work to do. The Warriors have failed to live up to their potential for years now and the Kiwis are struggling to click at international level.

    For the Fijians they now have a well-deserved shot at a place in the final. Of course they will be underdogs for their semi-final – but based on today’s performance they don’t really care what label they are given. The Aussies will be a big step up from the Kiwis for sure but they will need to make sure that they do not take the Bati lightly.

    Today’s game has injected some more life into international rugby league and hopefully demonstrated that it’s not just about scoring as many tries as possible. The Fijis showed a real depth to their gameplay today and a maturity that will make them a real threat in the semis and beyond this World Cup.