Five quick hits — Penalties, squad questions and a ‘massively important’ bonus point as Wallabies lose to Fiji

Australia World

The Wallabies have a whole lot of work to do if they are to qualify from Pool C and reach the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals after a stunning defeat against Fiji.

For the first time since 1954 and just the third time in history, the Wallabies fell to defeat against Fiji, leaving their hopes of progression resting on next Monday’s (AEST) clash with Wales in Lyon.

Here are the five main points from Saint-Étienne.

1. Wallabies open the scoring with a delightful 50:22

Mark Nawaqanitawase dives holding a ball

Mark Nawaqanitawase scored the first try of the match thanks to some quick thinking.(Getty Images: Catherine Ivill)

Things didn’t start perfectly for the Wallabies, but they did score the opening try, just as they did against Georgia.

After Ben Donaldson and Simione Kuruvoli exchanged penalties, it was the boot of Nic White — starting in place of the concussed Tate McDermott — who got Australia on the front foot for the first time in the match.

His perfect box kick from inside his own half saw the ball land in the Fijian 22 and trickle out of play — under the new rules a Wallabies lineout.

Not content with just field position though, Mark Nawaqanitawase raced forward and took that lineout quickly to Samu Koroibete.

Koroibete was smashed in a tackle, but not before he lobbed the ball back inside to Nawaqanitawase, who gave Australia the opening try of the game.

2. Fiji score an opportunist try

Josua Tuisova dives holding a ball

Josua Tuisova scored Fiji’s only try, an opportunistic score when he grabbed a bouncing ball.(Getty Images: Catherine Ivill)

Fiji were playing by far the best rugby of the two teams, moving the ball from left to right, and spreading the field to isolate the Wallabies defenders before smashing the ball up the centre.

There was even a bit of razzle-dazzle typical of the Fijian flair we’ve come to know and love towards the end of the first half — but incredibly there were no tries for the flying Fijians.

When the try did eventually come, though, it was sheer opportunism from Josua Tuisova.

A booming Simione Kuruvoli box kick landed smack-bang between Mark Nawaqanitawase and Carter Gordon and popped up delightfully for Tuisova, who ran the best part of 40 metres to splash down in the corner and extend Fiji’s lead.

No razzle. No dazzle, but the Wallabies were left dazed and confused — and they never recovered.

3. Carter Gordon taken off early

Carter Gordon runs with the ball

Carter Gordon was taken off after 50 minutes.(Getty Images: Chris Hyde)

The Wallabies were struggling a little to muster any real get forward at that stage, so Eddie Jones had to do something.

Flyhalf Carter Gordon was the player who was withdrawn, replaced by winger Suli Vunivalu, who went straight to the wing, pushing Donaldson into the 10 role and prompting a reshuffle of the back three.

Vunivalu did score Australia’s second try, but the decision to take off the Wallabies 10 did raise eyebrows.

For the 50 minutes Gordon was on the field, he made eight carries — second only to Rob Valentini’s 11 — and carried the ball for 44 metres —the fifth most of any Wallaby.

It may have been due to a lack of control on the game, but given the 22-year-old’s lack of experience and lack of cover for him in the squad, it was a big call.

“He stuck with Carter Gordon all the way through, perhaps too late to change his number 10,” former Wallabies centre Morgan Turinui said on Stan Sport.

“Because once that confidence is gone, it is tough to get it back.

“It is up to Eddie Jones himself to get around Carter Gordon and get what he needs out of him in terms of attack with the coaching staff and also the other senior players.”

Jones, for his part, was unapologetic about selecting a young team.

“I’ve got no regrets at all. We are building a team for the future and we are going to go through some pain,” he said.

“I made the decision to go for a younger team and if that’s the wrong decision then I will be held accountable for that.”

4. Penalties kill the Wallabies

Andrew Brace looks at a tackle

Referee Andrew Brace (left) blew 18 penalties against the Wallabies.(AP Photo: Aurelien Morissard)

Against Georgia, the Wallabies were lauded for their discipline and rightly so.

Australia conceded just seven penalties in that opening game — the third fewest of any team in the opening round of matches.

Unfortunately, that did not translate into a well-drilled performance against Fiji.

The Wallabies gave up a whopping 18 penalties in the match that cost them a hatful of points — Simione Kuruvoli kicked 14 points and Frank Lomani added another three from the kicking tee.

Kuruvoli’s boot was arguably the difference, making the most of the plenty of chances that came his way to kick the Fijians clear and keep them there, despite being outscored two tries to one. 

“When you are not on the front foot it’s quite easy to give away penalties,’ Jones said post-match.

“I am not worried about our discipline, I am worried about not getting on the front foot.”

5. Fiji miss chance to leave Wallabies empty-handed

As bad as the performance and result were, it could have been worse for Australia.

The seven-point defeat means Australia come away from Saint-Étienne with a losing bonus point — and there was no guarantee of that.

Lomani missed two very kickable penalties after he replaced Kuruvoli as kicker including with the final kick of the game.

Had either of those gone over then the Wallabies would have had a losing bonus point taken away from them.

Given the tightness of Pool C, and that Wales have already beaten Fiji, every point is of huge consequence when it comes to making the quarterfinals as one of the top two finishers in the pool.

“It could be massively important,” Jones said post-match.

“As disappointing as our performance was today, to get a point out of that is a bit of a bonus and that’s probably why they call it bonus points.”