Fiji boosts campaign with 7 tries in 45-10 win over Georgia

Fiji players embrace following their Rugby World Cup Pool D game at Hanazono Rugby Stadium against Georgia in Osaka, Japan, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019.Fiji defeated Georgia 45-10. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Georgian players react following their during Rugby World Cup Pool D game at Hanazono Rugby Stadium against Fiji in Osaka, Japan, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019.Fiji defeated Georgia 45-10. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
The Fijian team bow to the crowd following their Rugby World Cup Pool D game at Hanazono Rugby Stadium against Georgia in Osaka, Japan, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019.Fiji defeated Georgia 45-10. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Fiji's Api Ratuniyarawa runs to score try during the Rugby World Cup Pool D game at Hanazono Rugby Stadium between Georgia and Fiji in Osaka, Japan, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Fiji’s Waisea Nayacalevu scores a try during the Rugby World Cup Pool D game at Hanazono Rugby Stadium between Georgia and Fiji in Osaka, western Japan, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (Meika Fujio/Kyodo News via AP)
Fiji's Api Ratuniyarawa reaches out to score try during the Rugby World Cup Pool D game at Hanazono Rugby Stadium between Georgia and Fiji in Osaka, Japan, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Fiji's Josua Tuisova passes the ball as he is tackled by Georgia's Davit Katcharava, left, and Alexander Todua, right, during the Rugby World Cup Pool D game at Hanazono Rugby Stadium between Georgia and Fiji in Osaka, Japan, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Fiji's Api Ratuniyarawa runs past Georgia's Lasha Khmaladze to score a try during the Rugby World Cup Pool D game at Hanazono Rugby Stadium between Georgia and Fiji in Osaka, Japan, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

OSAKA, Japan — Fiji boosted its flagging Rugby World Cup campaign with seven tries and scintillating attacking rugby in a 45-10 win against Georgia.

The teeming rain Thursday didn’t affect Fiji’s running game, which proved far too strong for a Georgia lineup hoping to seal third place in Pool D with a win, which would have ensured automatic qualification for the 2023 World Cup.

Instead, Fiji has moved ahead of Georgia and provisionally over Australia into second place.

“Very pleased by the performance from the Flying Fijians,” head coach John McKee said. “Good to see us showing some of our flair and our talents at this World Cup.”

Fiji is still to face group leader Wales and Georgia is up against two-time champion Australia, which has played one game less than Fiji.

As the rain poured down at Hanazono Rugby Stadium on the outskirts of Osaka, Fiji failed initially to capitalize on a bright start.

But it was a sign of things to come when Waisea Nayacalevu’s spectacular first try put Fiji ahead midway through a rain-soaked first half where Georgia Soso Matiashvili missed one penalty goal and slotted over another to make it 7-3 at the break.

Then the tries came thick and fast: six more from the Fijians who thrilled the crowd with one-handed passes and some spectacular running. Georgia’s only try went to veteran Mamuka Gorgodze _ his fourth overall in World Cups _ briefly making it seem close at 17-10.

Left winger Semi Radradra scored two tries, with the other four coming from scrumhalf Frank Lomani, right winger Josua Tuisova, flanker Semi Kunatani and replacement lock Api Ratuniyarawa.

With Fiji’s forwards as slick as the backs, Georgia was simply overwhelmed.

“Once you let Fiji in behind you and they get a couple of passes together, it’s very hard to defend. It’s a bit like 7s rugby,” Georgia coach Milton Haig said. “We made a couple of critical errors in the second half which they ended up scoring from. Once they get their tails up, they’re the best in the world at scoring those kinds of tries.”

In the first half the scrums were evenly contested, with Georgia getting the upper hand at times.

Following a high Fiji tackle in the 15th minute, Matiashvili took the penalty goal from about 30 meters out wide on the right. The flag went up, then down, and three Georgia points were rubbed off the scoreboard.

Minutes later, a moment of typical Fiji improvisation caught Georgia cold as Radradra did well to stop flyhalf Ben Volavola’s grubber kick going out. He showed good hands to feed the ball quickly and accurately inside to the surging Nayacalevu, who sprinted clear.

Volavola slotted the first of his five conversions and was not needed for penalty goals, given the rampant mood Fiji was in after the bitter disappointment of losing its second group game to Uruguay in one of the tournament’s big upsets.

“They really wanted to make a statement today,” McKee said. “They’re very proud to represent their country and it means a lot to them.”

This was far more like the Fiji which led Australia at halftime in its opening game, before losing that one, too.

Nayacalevu should have had a second try in the first half after a superb passing move cut Georgia open, but he fumbled midfield partner Levani Botia’s pass inside and admonished himself after tumbling face-first into the wet turf.

Georgia then launched a brilliant attack from deep in its own half, carving Fiji open at speed with some great handling.

After left winger Alexander Todua and scrumhalf Vasil Lobzhanidze were held up, lock Konstantine Mikautadze emerged through a scrum but knocked-on with the tryline in sight.

Todua had been high tackled near the neck area, however, and Matiashvil kicked the penalty goal to make it 7-3.

The teams traded tries early in the second half: Lomani for Fiji in the 44th following a superb offload from Radradra; Tuisova in the right corner after Fiji ran decoy lines; the 35-year-old Gorgodze powering over after a pick-and-go.

Then it was time for the crowd to sit back and enjoy 30 minutes of the Fiji show.

Fiji moved the ball quickly to the left from a scrum as Radradra went from creator to finisher; Botia bashed into the Georgia defense before feeding Kunatani; Lomani and Radradra combined like they were playing blindfolded, taking out Georgia’s defense with instinctive passes to send Ratuniyarawa in.

It was thrilling for most fans watching, but exasperating for Haig.

“Our energy and execution weren’t quite there in the last 30 minutes,” Haig said. “This isn’t the performance we want for our friends and family back in Georgia. But we have to fix it and look forward to Australia.”

Radradra capped his star performance with a late try as Georgia’s defense got bullied again.

“Semi was world-class today,” Mckee said. “He showed the quality he brings to the game.”

___

More AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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