OSAKA, Japan — After hitting rock-bottom, the Fijians are flying again at the Rugby World Cup.
Fiji picked its flagging campaign with seven tries and scintillating attacking rugby in a 45-10 win over Georgia on Thursday, paying back its fans with a performance to remember eight days after losing 30-27 to Uruguay in one of the tournament’s biggest upsets.
“They really wanted to make a statement today. They’re very proud to represent their country and it means a lot to them,” Fiji head coach John McKee said. “Very pleased by the performance from the Flying Fijians. Good to see us showing some of our flair and our talents.”
The teeming rain didn’t affect Fiji’s running game, which proved far too strong for a Georgia lineup hoping to seal third place in Pool D with a win, which would have ensured automatic qualification for the 2023 World Cup.
Instead, Fiji has moved ahead of Georgia and provisionally over Australia into second place.
Fiji is still to face group leader Wales and Georgia is up against two-time champion Australia, which has played one game less than Fiji.
It was a sign of things to come when Waisea Nayacalevu’s spectacular first try put Fiji ahead midway through the first half.
The tries came thick and fast after the halftime interval: six more from the Fijians who thrilled the crowd with one-handed passes and spectacular running. Georgia’s only try went to veteran Mamuka Gorgodze _ his fourth overall in World Cups _ briefly making it close at 17-10.
Left winger Semi Radradra scored two tries, with the other four coming from scrumhalf Frank Lomani, right winger Josua Tuisova, flanker Semi Kunatani and replacement lock Api Ratuniyarawa.
With Fiji’s forwards as slick as the backs, Georgia was simply overwhelmed.
“Once you let Fiji in behind you and they get a couple of passes together, it’s very hard to defend. It’s a bit like 7s rugby,” Georgia coach Milton Haig said. “We made a couple of critical errors in the second half which they ended up scoring from. Once they get their tails up, they’re the best in the world at scoring those kinds of tries.”
In the first half the scrums were evenly contested, with Georgia getting the upper hand at times.
Following a high Fiji tackle in the 15th minute, Soso Matiashvili took an attempt at goal from about 30 meters out wide on the right. The flag went up, then down, and three Georgia points were rubbed off the scoreboard.
Minutes later, a moment of typical Fiji improvisation caught Georgia cold as Radradra did well to stop flyhalf Ben Volavola’s grubber kick going out. He showed good hands to feed the ball quickly and accurately inside to the surging Nayacalevu, who sprinted clear.
Volavola slotted the first of his five conversions and was not needed for penalty goals, given the rampant mood Fiji was in.
This was far more like the Fiji which led Australia at halftime in its opening game, before losing 39-21.
Nayacalevu should have had a second try in the first half after a superb passing move cut Georgia open, but he fumbled midfield partner Levani Botia’s pass inside and admonished himself after tumbling face-first into the wet turf.
Georgia then launched a brilliant attack from deep in its own half, carving Fiji open at speed with some great handling.
After left winger Alexander Todua and scrumhalf Vasil Lobzhanidze were held up, lock Konstantine Mikautadze emerged through a scrum but knocked-on with the tryline in sight.
Todua had been high tackled near the neck area, however, and Matiashvil kicked the penalty goal to make it 7-3.
Early in the second half, the teams traded tries: Lomani for Fiji in the 44th minute following a superb offload from Radradra; Tuisova in the right corner after Fiji ran decoy lines; and the 35-year-old Gorgodze powering over after a pick-and-go.
Then came 30 minutes of one-way traffic.
Fiji moved the ball quickly to the left from a scrum as Radradra went from creator to finisher; Botia bashed into the Georgia defense before feeding Kunatani; Lomani and Radradra combined like they were playing blindfolded, taking out Georgia’s defense with instinctive passes to send Ratuniyarawa in.
Radradra capped his star performance with a late try as Georgia’s defense got bullied again.
“Semi was world-class today,” Mckee said. “He showed the quality he brings to the game.”