Flying Fijians win it for Fijians back home
PARIS, France – November 25, 2018: 6.45pm (Stuff): Fiji have celebrated a massive first-ever upset victory over France in a tense rugby test in Paris.
The Fijians – ranked 10th in the world to France’s eight – held on with some heroic defence to beat France 21-14 at the Stade de France earlier this morning.
Dominiko Waqaniburotu, the Fijian captain who plays in France for Brive, said his team “play for our homeland”.
“This win this afternoon is for the people in Fiji,” he said on Sky Sport as the South Pacific nation basked in the glory of a first win over France in 10 test encounters.
Fiji have beaten Australia (twice), Scotland (twice), Argentina, Italy and Wales, and to beat France in Paris was especially pleasing with 10 of the 23-man Fijian squad on the payroll at French Top 14 clubs.
But it was also a victory for Fijian’s development system with four players from the Suva-based Fijian Drua squad, which won this year’s Australian Rugby Championship.
Blindside flanker Waqaniburotu was sure that Fijian people, who love rugby sevens, would be “really happy” at the 15-a-side’s finest hour.
Before wheeling away to join the rest of his team in a mid-pitch huddle and sing-song, Waqaniburotu said Fiji had worked hard all week on their defence, knowing France would be strong in the maul.
The Fijian Rugby Union was ecstatic at the win, retweeting a Twitter claim that the victory would push Fiji up to eighth place on the world rankings.
The FRU hailed the Paris upset as “the most epic match ever”.
France coach Jacques Brunel conceded his team were deservedly beaten, saying Fiji were “stronger physically than us in the duel” and the French could not clamber their way back and “turn this game around”.
Fiji grabbed the lead in the 19th minute through a brilliant converted try to centre Semi Radrada, who seized on the ball inside the French danger zone, beat two French defenders and smashed his way over the line with two of Les Bleus still clinging to his back.
France captain Guilhem Guirado – the star hooker of the November international series – struck back in the 24th minute.
But Fiji went ahead again six minutes later after wing Guirado’s Toulon team-mate Josua Tuisova crossed after fine approach work by wing Veroniki Goneva, who evaded two tacklers to link up with Radrada for the assist.
France tied it up with Guirado’s second try of the game from a lineout drive on the stroke of halftime to give the home side a 14-12 lead.
Goneva had a try disallowed before Guirado’s touchdown after Radrada won a turnover, but was ruled offside after a video replay.
France-based Fijian first five-eighth Ben Volavola slotted two second-half penalties to put the Pacific team ahead 18-14.
France’s defence was scrambling to keep the Fijian players out around the hour mark, but Fiji were under defensive pressure for most of the final 10 minutes.
Fiji defused a late lineout penalty drive by France, holding up the maul to win a turnover.
France later got the ball back, but spilled it and Fiji kicked the ball upfield, with its chasers pinning French wing Teddy Thomas in his in-goal area to win a 5m scrum in the final minute.
The Fijian forwards bashed away at the try-line and France conceded a penalty, allowing Volavola to kick another goal for a seven-point winning margin.
AT A GLANCE
In Paris: Fiji 21 (Semi Radrada, Josua Tuisova tries; Ben Volavola con, 3 pen) France 14 (Guilhem Guirado 2 tries; Baptiste Serin 2 con). HT: 12-14.
Fiji’s winning team was: 15 Metuisela Talebula, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Semi Radradra, 12 Jale Vatubua, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Peceli Yato, 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu (c), 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Tevita Cavubati, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Sam Matavesi, 1 Campese Maafu
Substitutes: 16 Mesulame Dolokoto, 17 Eroni Mawi, 18 Kalivati Tawake, 19 Albert Tuisue, 20 Semi Kunatani, 21 Henry Seniloli, 22 Alivereti Veitokani, 23 Eroni Sau.
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