After starting their Rugby World Cup campaign with a deserved victory against Georgia, Australia face a stern examination against Fiji in Saint-Etienne on Sunday.
That win was a deserved one as the Wallabies dominated the encounter for long periods while it was also significant as it was their first triumph under the guidance of head coach Eddie Jones since he took over the coaching reins from Dave Rennie at the start of the year.
Jones came into the World Cup under severe pressure after he selected a youthful squad for the global showpiece and after that fine start against Georgia, where they secured a bonus-point win, they are brimming with confidence ahead of this clash with the Pacific Islanders.
Meanwhile, Fiji came into the tournament on a high after clinching a shock win over England at Twickenham in their final warm-up match for the global showpiece.
They were involved in arguably the game of the World Cup so far against Wales but despite finishing that game with a flourish, they fell just short as they suffered a narrow 32-26 defeat.
Fiji came into the tournament in seventh position in World Rugby’s official rankings but that loss has seen them drop down to ninth. Meanwhile, Australia now occupy seventh place while Wales are in eighth spot but that situation could change again after the weekend’s results.
Australia and Fiji have played each other on 22 previous occasions with the Wallabies being on the winning side on 19 occasions while Fiji have won twice and there was one draw.
However, the last of Fiji’s victories was way back in 1954 and the Islanders know that they can end their 69-year winless streak if they put in a superb all-round performance this weekend.
Where the game will be won
Although both teams are renowned for their exciting backlines, the performance of the two sets of forwards will be pivotal in the outcome of this encounter. While the respective backlines will still have important roles to play and we can expect plenty of thrilling action from them, the forward battle will be huge as both sides have shown considerable improvement in that aspect of the game.
In their win over Georgia, Australia caught the eye with a strong scrummaging display – which was no mean feat as the Lelos’ forwards have earned a reputation for being amongst the best in the business in that facet of play. Meanwhile, Fiji’s forward play has been viewed as their Achilles heel for several years now but they have made tremendous strides in that department since head coach Simon Raiwalui took charge of the team in February.
However, what was noticeable against Wales was how competitive they were in the forward exchanges with their scrummaging, lineout work and mauling of a high standard. Whichever side dominates up front will set an excellent platform for their backs and that should pave the way to victory.
Last time they met
What they said
Despite starting their World Cup campaign with that loss to Wales, Fiji were the dominant side in that encounter, especially in its latter stages when they were chasing the game and Wallabies wing Mark Nawaqanitawase is wary of the attacking threat the Pacific Islanders pose.
“They can do anything out of nothing,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re connected and ready for it.”
After their opening round defeat to Wales, the Flying Fijians are keen to bounce back with a win and Raiwalui is quietly confident ahead of the match.
“We went through the process of good recovery and I players have recovered well and have started to prepare for the next task which is against a very good Wallabies,” he said.
“We have done everything possible for the past few days and are ready for the challenge ahead of us.”
Players to watch
One player whose stocks have risen considerably for the Wallabies in recent weeks is utility back Ben Donaldson. Primarily a fly-half, the Western Force-bound playmaker was a shock selection in the Wallabies’ World Cup squad and he also caught many by surprise when he lined up at full-back against Georgia. He did not disappoint, however, as he finished that match with a 25-point contribution courtesy of a brace of tries, three penalties and as many conversions. A similar performance from him should help his side to another victory.
With first choice scrum-half and vice-captain Tate McDermott sidelined due to concussion sustained against the Lelos, the Wallabies have turned to veteran number nine Nic White, after he came to the fore with a polished display off the bench last weekend. The 33-year-old will be expected to provide a crisp service to his outside backs while also giving the side momentum with his playmaking skills and if he gets good front foot ball from his forwards, he should ask questions of Fiji’s defence.
Another player who will be crucial to the Australian cause is powerful number eight Rob Valetini, whose ball carrying ability and superb defensive skills usually gives the Wallabies an edge in the forward exchanges. The 25-year-old did exactly that against Georgia as he gained 39 metres from 10 carries while also putting his body on the line in defence. He will be expected to hit the ground running against Fiji.
After starting at inside centre against Wales, Fiji superstar Semi Radradra has been shifted to the left wing for this encounter but although he will be further away from the action it doesn’t mean he will not have an influence on this game’s end result. Radradra is the type of player who will be in the thick of the action throughout and he is sure to test the Wallaby defence with his outstanding skill-set.
Another player who should have a big impact on this match is Fiji’s captain and outside centre Waisea Nayacalevu. The 33-year-old is brilliant with ball in hand and is also an outstanding distributor who has the ability to bring out the best in his team-mates. Against Wales he combined brilliantly with Radradra and was rewarded with a well-taken try while also impressing with his leadership as Fiji chased the game. He will be keen to put in a similar display against the Wallabies.
If the Pacific Islanders want to be successful in this encounter their forwards will have to be at their best and one player who will be expected to take the fight to his opponents is exciting number eight Viliame Mata. The Edinburgh back-row is as tough as nails as he seldom takes a backward step in contact while he also puts in some big hits on defence and will be crucial in both departments against Australia.
Supporters from both countries will be licking their lips at the prospect of watching the midfield battle between Samu Kerevi of Australia and Josua Tuisova of Fiji. This highly anticipated duel is very much a case of an irresistible force coming up against an immovable object as both these players are destructive ball carriers.
After a month on the sidelines with a broken hand, Fijian-born Kerevi returned to the Wallabies side in their World Cup opener against Georgia and did not disappoint as he got over the advantage line at will during a 40-minute stint before being replaced at half-time. Meanwhile, Tuisova came off the bench late in Fiji’s loss to Wales and made an immediate impact when he crossed for a try in the game’s dying moments. He will be expected to continue where he left off in that fixture but won’t find things easy as Kerevi will be determined to halt his progress.
These are two evenly matched teams and this result is very difficult to call. We expect both sides to go at each other hammer and tongs for the entire game and in the end the match should go down to the wire but Fiji will win by three points.
2019: Australia won 39-21 in Sapporo (RWC)
2017: Australia won 37-14 in Melbourne
2015: Australia won 28-13 in Cardiff (RWC)
2010: Australia won 49-3 in Canberra
2007: Australia won 55-12 in Montpellier (RWC)
2007: Australia won 49-0 in Perth
1998: Australia won 66-20 in Sydney
1985: Australia won 31-9 in Sydney
Australia: 15 Ben Donaldson, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Jordan Petaia, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Carter Gordon, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Tom Hooper, 5 Will Skelton (c), 4 Nick Frost, 3 James Slipper, 2 David Porecki, 1 Angus Bell
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Blake Schoupp, 18 Zane Nonggorr, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Suliasi Vunivalu
Fiji: 15 Ilaisa Droasese, 14 Jiuta Wainiqolo, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu (c), 12 Josua Tuisova, 11 Semi Radradra, 10 Teti Tela, 9 Simione Kuruvoli, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Levani Botia, 6 Lekima Tagitagivalu, 5 Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, 4 Isoa Nasilasila, 3 Luke Tagi, 2 Sam Matavesi, 1 Eroni Mawi
Replacements: 16 Tevita Ikanivere, 17 Peni Ravai, 18 Mesake Doge, 19 Temo Mayanavanua, 20 Albert Tuisue, 21 Frank Lomani, 22 Vilimoni Botitu, 23 Vinaya Habosi
Date: Sunday, September 17
Venue: Stade Geoffroy Guichard, Saint-Etienne
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 BST, 19:00 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
READ MORE: James Slipper equals record as he starts for Australia in crunch Fiji clash
The article Australia v Fiji preview: Islanders to get World Cup campaign on track with narrow victory over Wallabies appeared first on Planetrugby.com.