World Stage at last
Two down, one to go. That was the message from national coach Brad Johnstone after Fiji’s hard earned 38-22 win against Canada.
“Every victory is a relief for a coach,” Johnstone said, “but we came here to win three matches and the job isn’t finished yet.”
In what was the most important game for both teams in many years, Fiji overcame a nervous start to outscore the Canadians four tries to one at Stade Lescure in Bordeaux.
A drop goal in the 33rd minute from Canada’s veteran captain Gareth Rees had seen his team stretch out a 16-5 lead, but two tries in a five-minute spell before half-time swung the game for the Fijians.
“I felt like jumping off a bridge in those opening 30 minutes,” Johnstone said. “It took us a long time to get going, but we played with more structure than we did against Namibia.”
Vili Satala, who signed with French club Mont-de-Marsan four days before the match, celebrated his new contract with a brace of tries, cutting through Canada’s backline on both occasions.
Fero Lasagavibau was unlucky not to see his name on the scoresheet. He raced through for a touch down in the 35th minute, but the referee awarded a penalty try. Then deep into first-half injury time, he rounded his markers again and dived over, but referee Ed Morrison called play back and gave Fiji a penalty instead.
Fiji totally dominated the second half with Nicky Little picking up two more penalty goals, one dropped goal and a conversion to take his match total to 18 points. Marika Vunibaka scored an opportunist try in the 61st minute when he latched onto a fortunate bounce, exchanged passes with No.8 Koli Sewabu and barged through two tackles on his way to the line.
Serevi took over fullback duties from Alfred Uluinayau at half time, while Little continued as place kicker.
“Obviously, the presence of Nicky Little is very important,” Johnstone said. “He’s a 15s specialist, he grew up with the game, and things work in a more controlled fashion for us when he is on the field.”
Canada only managed six points in the second half as Fiji’s defence looked increasingly secure and won praises from the Canadian coach Pat Parfrey.
“Fiji played a modern game,” Parfrey said. “They kept putting the ball behind us, keeping the pressure on. And they had the skilful backs in reserve when they needed them.
“Fiji clearly deserved to win the game. Their skills were superior to ours.”
Fiji’s control left Rees similarly impressed.
“That was a side of Fiji rugby we haven’t seen before,” he said, adding that he thought Fiji would cause France a lot of problems.
“Fiji can beat a lot of teams. They were much more physical than we expected. We turned the screws on them for the first half hour, but they came back well and did the same to us,” he said.
Fiji have never beaten France before, yet confidence in John-stone’s camp was high, knowing that victory would secure a quarter-final berth in Dublin.
But Johnstone wasn’t about to count his chickens: “I think we’re all getting carried away if we feel that Fiji are favourites against France.
“The French have been playing wonderful rugby for many years, so we still have a big job ahead.”