Fiji hammered another nail into the Wallabies’ coffin by defeating Georgia to all but seal Eddie Jones’ World Cup fate – but their 17-12 win wasn’t without controversy.
Twice English referee Karl Dickson made controversial calls in either half, with both costing Georgia – and the Wallabies – dearly.
The first came in the 40th minute as Georgia, leading 9-0 and Fiji’s nerves firmly on display, managed to clean up the loose ball at a breakdown and pass to winger Aka Tabutsadze to touch down out wide.
But the last pass was deemed to be forward by assistant referee Pierre Brousset, with Georgia denied a crucial five-point blow on the stroke of half-time. Nor was the decision referred upstairs to the TMO, with the on-field referees making a decision on the spot.
The immediate decision went against several moments throughout the World Cup, where referees have been inclined to listen to TMOs.
The next came in the 65th minute with Georgia hanging on 9-7 following Waisea Nayacalevu’s spectacular finish in the 51st minute, as Dickson awarded an advantage from a knock-on over despite the ball being hacked ahead off the deck and into the hands of Fiji.
From the resulting breakdown, Fiji won a penalty and Frank Lomani wobbled a penalty over from 40 metres out to take the lead for the first time in the match by moving ahead 10-7.
There was no arguing about Fiji’s next scoring movement though, as some brilliance from Levani Botia to attract defenders and clear his arms to send Vinaya Habosi into score and send them on their way.
Or, so they thought.
A late and fabulous shot at goals, where Luka Matkava took next to no time to land a penalty in the 80th minute and cut the margin to 17-12, allowed Georgia one last crack to attempt a coast-to-coast try and win the match.
Georgia threw everything at it, before Mikheil Gachechiladze broke free out wide on the fringes and then unleashed Gela Aprasidze, who toed ahead instead of passing back on the inside.
The decision proved costly, as Fijian fullback Ilaisa Droasese was there first and toed the ball dead to seal a dramatic victory.
The 17-12 win put Fiji on the cusp of a historic quarter-final appearance, with Simon Raiwalui’s men only needing a losing bonus point next week against the winless Portugal to seal a place in the final eight.
Fiji, who have a game in hand on the Wallabies, are now four points clear of their Pool C rivals.
It leaves the Wallabies needing not only a bonus point victory over Portugal on Sunday evening (Monday, 2:45am, AEST) to leap their pool opponents, but Fiji to lose to the Europeans a week later and not pick up a losing bonus point either.
Raiwalui, who was Michael Cheika’s assistant with the Wallabies at the 2019 World Cup, said his side were fortunate to only be trailing by nine points at half time.
“Firstly, congratulations to Georgia. If we’re being honest, we were beaten to the punch in the first half. They came out and they were firing and we were lucky to just be down by nine points,” Raiwalui said.
“We knew it was going to be a battle. Just thankful we came away with the result.”
After showing nerves of steel against the Wallabies a fortnight ago at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, the pressure and expectation of being favourites was on display in the opening 20 minutes.
Balls were dropped, shots at goal missed and the composure was all at sea for Fiji.
Yet, for all their anxiety, Fiji weren’t put to the sword despite an early penalty from Matkava and two long-range shots from impressive winger Davit Niniashvili.
Georgia’s disallowed try proved costly on the stroke of half-time.
But they didn’t help themselves in the opening stages of the second half, as Georgia failed to capitalise on the numerical advantage left by Semi Radradra’s deliberate knock down.
Despite having several opportunities inside Fiji’s 22, Georgia made a meal of the chances.
It was left to Fiji’s captain Nayacalevu to settle it down, as the outside centre finished brilliantly out wide. Lomani’s sideline conversion was important, too.
The final 30 minutes was a ding-dong battle that went down to the final play, with Fiji holding on to leave them a losing bonus point away from progressing into the final eight and likely a date with England in the quarter-finals.