The blowtorch on Eddie Jones is sure to intensify after Australia’s ill-fated Rugby World Cup campaign officially ended with Fiji’s drama-charged 24-23 loss to Portugal.
Fiji sealed their first quarter-final berth since 2007 with the bonus-point defeat in Toulouse, to consign the Wallabies to their first exit before the knockout stages in 10 editions of the global showpiece.
Despite Portugal snatching a historic first World Cup win with a last-minute conversion from Samuel Marques after a Rodrigo Marta try, Fiji progressed to a quarter-final against England to send the Wallabies packing from France.
Australia had been clinging to the hope of Portugal beating Fiji by eight points or more, which the European underdogs threatened to do for more than an hour on Sunday night (Monday AEDT).
But after twice trailing by seven points in the second half, the Pacific islanders jumped out to a six-point advantage before Marta’s last-gasp try and Marques’ conversion sparked joyous scenes at Stadium de Toulouse.
The Wallabies now must pick up the pieces from far and away their worst-ever World Cup showing.
Two-time champions Australia had progressed to at least the quarter-finals in all nine previous editions stretching back to 1987.
But the youngest side at the 2023 tournament will instead return home prematurely in a humiliating new low for the ailing code Down Under as Jones fights to save his international coaching career.
After being sacked as Wallabies coach in 2005 following a run of eight losses in nine Tests, Jones’s return this year for a second stint has been nothing less than disastrous.
His squad arrived at the World Cup winless in five Tests and departed after a record 40-6 loss to Wales, a first defeat to Fiji in 69 years and a pair of unconvincing 20-point victories over relative minnows Georgia and Portugal.
Rugby Australia’s decision to parachute the 63-year-old in to replace the axed Dave Rennie 10 months before the tournament has backfired spectacularly.
Jones had pledged to steer the Wallabies to World Cup glory in a “smash-and-grab” raid of the Webb Ellis Trophy.
Instead he changed tack dramatically after a narrow loss to the All Blacks in September.
Insisting he was building for the future, he dropped veteran playmaker Quade Cooper and also overlooked long-time former captain Michael Hooper in two eyebrow-raising selection calls that brought swift backlash from fans and rugby greats.
He remains contracted through to the 2027 World Cup in Australia but faces a tough time trying to restore his and the 10th-ranked Wallabies’ battered reputation.
Despite all their failures, the Wallabies remained in the hunt to scrape into the quarter-finals until deep into Monday’s contest between Fiji and Portugal.
The scores were locked at 3-3 after a tryless first half before Portugal rose to the occasion after the break.
First, winger Raffaele Storti brilliantly regathered a deft Pedro grubber kick to score.
Then, after flanker Levani Botia crashed over to tie the game up at 10-10, prop Francisco Fernandes restored Os Lobos’s lead with the side’s ‘ second try.
Fiji looked to have snatched victory after prop Mesake Doge barged his way over in the 68th minute and Frank Lomani slotted two penalty goals.
But Marques had the final say – at Australia’s expense.
Wales topped Pool C, with Fiji edging out the Wallabies for second spot on a countback courtesy of their 22-15 win over Australia in St Etienne.