The Wallabies’ World Cup in France remains alive – for another day at least – with Fiji failing to secure the maximum points needed to secure their quarter-final berth.
Fiji needed a bonus point win over Georgia in their pool clash in Bordeaux but put the ball back in Australia’s court.
For while the popular Pacific islanders won in a thriller 17-12 on Saturday (Sunday AEDT), they didn’t get the necessary bonus point for scoring at least four tries that would have guaranteed their last-eight spot.
The Wallabies now face Portugal in Saint-Etienne on Sunday (Monday AEDT), also requiring a bonus point win.
But if Australia manage that to move to 11 points, their stay of execution still may only be extended for a week.
Sitting on 10 points, Fiji will face Portugal next Sunday and would still join unbeaten Wales in the play-offs by leaving Toulouse with victory – or even with a losing bonus point.
While the teams will be level, Fiji will advance due to having won their pool clash.
If Fiji don’t collect a bonus point for losing within seven points or fewer, Australia would make the quarter-finals.
But the Fijians are determined to now finish the job against Portugal after overcoming their demanding test from the Georgians.
“Relieved,” admitted Fijian captain Waisea Nayacalevu, when asked how he felt.
“We didn’t manage to do a few things, dropped balls, put ourselves under pressure in the first half. What I told the boys, ‘We keep fighting, we keep focusing, keep on going, don’t back out’.
“And in the end in the second half we managed to get away with the win, so I’m proud of the boys.
“For the record, we want to be a history-making team and that is our goal. We will take it step by step.”
The Wallabies said earlier in the day they would gather at their team hotel to watch the crucial clash – and for a long while they had plenty to cheer about.
Georgia came within a whisker of downing Fiji, with a race to the line in the 81st minute between five-eighth Luka Matkava and fullback Ilaisa Droasese, with the Fijian booting the ball dead to secure the vital victory.
Fiji looked a weary shell of the team that outplayed Australia 22-15 in their second pool match.
World No.14 Georgia raced out to a 9-0 lead on the back of three penalty kicks and looked like they would extend that lead just before halftime only for the final pass of a long-range try to be ruled, rather dubiously, as forward.
The men in red again had their tails up early in the second half with former NRL star Semi Radradra given a yellow card for an intentional knock-on.
But Georgia were unable to capitalise.
Nayacalevu took matters into his own hands when he scored a miracle try in the 50th minute, somehow planting the ball while going backwards over the sideline.
After missing an earlier penalty strike, replacement halfback Frank Lomani didn’t miss in the 64th minute to put Fiji in the lead 10-9.
The injured-ravaged Georgians kept toiling away but Vinaya Habosi grabbed a second try in the 67th minute to extend the lead to 17-9, no doubt putting Wallabies’ nerves on edge.
While Fiji chased another two tries to book their quarter-final spot, Georgia’s defence held firm and a penalty kick by Matkava even gave his team a sniff of an upset.
They were ultimately unable to score a winning try but at least make Australia’s clash with Portugal a live rubber.