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A stunning upset victory by Portugal over Fiji wasn’t enough to help the Wallabies sneak through to the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
Portugal claimed their first-ever victory at a Rugby World Cup in a drama-filled clash, scoring a try in the 77th minute to down the Flying Fijians.
But Fiji picked up a bonus point by losing by less than eight points, meaning they finished equal with the Wallabies in second place in Pool C. The first tie-breaker at a Rugby World Cup is head-to-head record, and with Fjii having beaten the Wallabies in their pool fixture, that saw Fiji secure a spot in the quarter-finals against England next weekend in Marseille.
The Wallabies, who’d had to wait in France for a week after their last game and train on in the event they qualified, will now fly back to Australia on Tuesday.
The late try by Portugal was enough to give them a famous – and well-deserved – victory, but Fiji did enough in the second half to head off the catastrophic outcome of being beaten by eight points and not claiming a point at all.
For a while in the second half, however, the Wallabies and their battered fans dared to dream.
Portugal celebrate after their maiden World Cup win.Credit: Getty
Needing Fiji to not claim a point in the last game, Australians watched on as the defiant Portuguese side defied their rank outsider status and world no.16 ranking, and took the fight to the world no.8 team.
Against a nervous and mistake-riddled Fijian side, the gallant men from Portugal tackled with ferocious intensity and went into the sheds level at 3-all.
After the break, the teams may as well have swapped jerseys. Portugal began playing more like Fiji than Fiji, with brave offloading and bruising tackling. When Fiji lost a man to the sin bin early in the second half, Portugal scored two tries to take a 17-10 lead, with half-an-hour on the clock.
Just one more score from Portugal of any kind would have seen the Wallabies in a position to qualify.
But Fiji steadied themselves, and despite more outstanding defence from Portugal in their own half, the Pacific Islanders began to wear the Portuguese down. Showing the grit of Portugal’s wide defence, Fiji had to turn to a prop, Mesake Dogo, to score a try in the 67th minute and level the scores.
Two penalties from Frank Lomani pushed the Fijians ahead by six as the game wound down, and it looked as though they still would ease home as victors.
But Portugal weren’t done yet, and after some excellent ball movement in the final minutes, winger Rodrigo Marta scored a try in the 77th minute. Halfback Samuel Marques capped a superb game by nailing the conversion, and after dealing with the re-start, Portugal kicked the ball out, claimed the win and celebrated like mad men.
Vinaya Habosi runs with the ball in a rare open break by Fiji.Credit: Getty
Fiji were downcast to lose but had done enough to claim a quarter-final spot ahead of Australia, and deservedly so after an outstanding tournament. So often the outsiders in Test match rugby, their nerves were clear to see in dealing with favouritism and dispatching a team everyone presumed they would comfortably handle.
For the Wallabies, it was off to pack their bags and blow up their neck pillows for the long flight home. Rugby Australia will conduct a post-World Cup review in November where the entrails of a failed campaign – the Wallabies’ first-ever exit at the pool stages – will be pored over.
Rugby Australia have already said they will stick with Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, who has a five-year contract, and Jones has said he will only be leaving if pushed by RA.
But the matter of Jones interviewing with Japan is yet to be resolved – or even reckoned with – at Rugby Australia headquarters, and the future is far from clear about the Wallabies coach’s future.
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