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Fiji eyeing World Cup quarter-final

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World Cup quarter-final spot on the line as Fiji aim to tip up Wallabies

Only once in Fiji’s 32-year World Cup history have the Pacific Islanders ever qualified for the knockout rounds of the quadrennial tournament.

That was, of course, in France 12 years ago.

Led by the likes of skipper Mosese Rauluni, star flyhalf Nicky Little, veteran loose forward Akapusi Qera, versatile five-eighth Seremaia Bai and speedster Vilimoni Delasau, the Flying Fijians shocked the world by upsetting Wales 38-34 in the final match of Pool B in Nantes.

In doing so, they secured their group’s second qualifying berth for the World Cup quarter-finals behind Australia, thus sending the Six Nations powerhouses home early.

An admirable performance in a losing effort in their only last eight appearance to date against eventual champions South Africa in Marseilles saw Ilivasi Tabua’s side give the Springboks a massive fright before going down 37-20.

It remains Fiji’s best-ever showing at a World Cup, with their next two World Cup campaigns in 2011 and 2015 falling well short of the awe-inspiring success that the class of 2007 provided.

Fiji’s win over Wales at the 2007 World Cup remains the greatest feat in their history. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

While their downfall in New Zealand came down to ill-preparation and poor performances, they were placed alongside England, Wales and Australia in the ‘Pool of Death’ four years ago, leaving them with little chance of reaching the knockout stages for a second time.

It did, however, help head coach John McKee lay the foundations for this current World Cup cycle, and with an extra four years at the helm of the national side, Fiji looked primed to cause a stir in Japan.

Of all tier two nations playing in the Far East over the next seven weeks, Fiji are being heralded as one of two genuine chances of reaching the knockout stages, with the hosts also considered a realistic prospect for a quarter-final finish.

Those inklings stem from a sustained run of success since England 2015, whereby the have maintained a 62.5 percent win rate, claimed a hat-trick of Pacific Nations Cup titles and won three clashes against tier one nations – including their famous 21-14 victory over France in Paris last year.

That win in the French capital emphasised the dangerous attacking ability that Fiji possess, especially with powerful wingers Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova on the end of their backline.

Both players dotted down at the Stade de France 10 months ago, and both will don the No. 11 and No. 14 jerseys on Saturday when Fiji open their 2019 World Cup campaign against Australia in Sapporo.

Their barnstorming services will again be integral to Fiji attaining a result out of tomorrow’s clash, as this fixture presents itself as the best opportunity McKee’s team has at making the final eight for the first time since 2007.

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As two-time winners of this tournament, the Wallabies have a proud and storied history throughout test rugby.

But while Michael Cheika and his side head into this World Cup with the aim of claiming the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time, many view Australia as arguably one more vulnerable tier one countries.

Since the last World Cup, their run of Bledisloe Cup misfortune has been extended to 17 years, they’ve fallen as low as seventh on the world rankings, and are still yet to put together a string of commanding performances which would establish their title credentials.

Last year, Cheika’s side picked up just four wins from 13 outings, and while a compelling 47-26 victory against a 14-man All Blacks outfit in Perth last month certainly would have caught the attention of many worldwide, their follow-up display – a 36-0 thrashing at the hands of a full-strength New Zealand in Auckland just a week later – did a lot to dispel any notion of how threatening the Wallabies could be in Japan.

The integration of a new halves combination between former Brumbies duo Nic White and Christian Lealiifano has, admittedly, brought with it a breathe of fresh air into the Australian set-up, as has the re-call of James O’Connor from international wilderness.

It’s proven to be a smart call as he complements the skill set of his midfield partner Samu Kerevi well.

Although he’s been ruled unavailable for this match, untested teenager Jordan Petaia could also prove to be a game breaker, and David Pocock’s long-awaited return from injury will certainly bolster the Wallabies’ chances of success.

But there remains a lingering doubt about both how convincing Australia – who remain favourites for this match – will be against the plucky underdogs, and their chances of emerging from the pool with Six Nations champions Wales also present in the group.

Their victory against the reigning world champions in Perth is the only time in the past 12 months that they have put together a comprehensive display of rugby across the whole 80 minutes, but it came against an undermanned and deflated All Blacks side.

Provided disciplinary issues don’t play a factor at Sapporo Dome, the Wallabies can be assured that Fiji will be neither of those things come Saturday.

Aiding their cause for a monumental upset in the north of Japan is the presence of captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu and Olympic gold medal-winners Leone Nakarawa, Semi Kunatani and Viliame Mata in the forward pack.

With a World Cup knockout spot on the line, they, along with Radradra, Tuisova and others in the backline, such as Ben Volavola, Waisea Nayacalevu and Frank Lomani, won’t be lacking any motivation to capture a historic result.

It will require an inspired performance to usurp the Wallabies, but if their result against France last year is anything to go by, then ambitions of replicating their feats of 2007 – which ride on the result of this game – won’t be out of reach for Fiji.

Recent Form:

Australia:

W 34-15 vs Samoa at Bankwest Stadium, Sydney (7/9)

L 0-36 vs New Zealand at Eden Park, Auckland (17/8)

W 47-26 vs New Zealand at Optus Stadium, Perth (10/8)

W 16-10 vs Argentina at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane (27/7)

L 17-35 vs South Africa at Ellis Park, Johannesburg (20/7)

Fiji:

W 29-19 vs Tonga at Eden Park, Auckland (31/8)

W 10-3 vs Samoa at ANZ National Stadium, Suva (10/8)

W 38-13 vs Canada at ANZ National Stadium, Suva (3/8)

L 21-34 vs Japan at Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, Kamaishi (27/7)

L 17-26 vs Maori All Blacks at Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua (20/7)

Last Five Head-To-Head Results:

Australia 37-14 Fiji at AAMI Park, Melbourne (2017)

Australia 28-13 Fiji at Principality Stadium, Cardiff (2015)

Australia 49-3 Fiji at GIO Stadium, Canberra (2010)

Australia 55-12 Fiji at Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier (2007)

Australia 49-0 Fiji at Subiaco Oval, Perth (2007)

Playing Record

Australia wins: 18

Fiji wins: 2

Draw(s): 1

First meeting: Australia 15-9 Fiji at Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney on 26 July 1952

Australia:

1. Scott Sio, 2. Tolu Latu, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 4. Izack Rodda, 5. Rory Arnold, 6. David Pocock, 7. Michael Hooper, 8. Isi Naisarani, 9. Nic White, 10. Christian Lealiifano, 11. Marike Koroibete, 12. Samu Kerevi, 13. James O’Connor, 14. Reece Hodge, 15. Kurtley Beale.

Reserves: 16. Jordan Uelese, 17. James Slipper, 18. Sekope Kepu, 19. Adam Coleman, 20. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 21. Will Genia, 22. Matt Toomua, 23. Dane Haylett-Petty.

Fiji:

1. Campese Ma’afu, 2. Sam Matavesi, 3. Peni Ravai, 4. Tevtia Cavubati, 5. Leone Nakarawa, 6. Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 7. Peceli Yato, 8. Viliame Mata, 9. Frank Lomani, 10. Ben Volavola, 11. Semi Radradra, 12. Levani Botia, 13. Waisea Nayacalevu, 14. Josua Tuisova, 15. Kini Murimurivalu.

Reserves: 16. Tuvere Vugatoko, 17. Eroni Mawi, 18. Manasa Saulo, 19. Tevita Ratuva, 20. Mosese Voka, 21. Nikola Matawalu, 22. Alivereti Veitokani, 23. Vereniki Goneva.

Kick-off time (local): 1:45pm

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World Cup quarter-final spot on the line as Fiji aim to tip up Wallabies