Flying Fijians’ day

Semi Radradra celebrates after scoring a try against France during their match at Stade De France stadium in Paris, France. Fiji beat France 21-14. Picture: AP PHOTO

THE streets of central Paris bellowed with smoke on Saturday night as thousands of protestors clashed with police over rising fuel prices; and the Flying Fijians added to the flames and uproar with a sizzling 21-14 victory over the Tricolores at nearby Stade de France.

In truth, Fiji won this game from start to finish.

They outplayed, out-tackled and out-thought the Jacques Brunel side that had defeated Argentina 28-13 a week earlier.

Sensational tries from Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova did the early damage, with fly-half Ben Volavola controlling play well throughout and kicking 11 points so that in the end Fiji didn’t need any of their three disallowed tries.

John McKee’s men have had many near misses in the recent past, not least at RWC 2015 when they battled bravely against England, Australia and Wales but ultimately lost all three matches.

“Great credit to the team, not just for tonight but the way they have worked so hard this whole tour,” McKee said afterwards.

“We came to Stade de France really confident that we could challenge this French team.

“Our players showed a lot of heart on the field; and at difficult times in the match, they really dug deep and defended a narrow margin for a long period to get the result.”

Fiji began on the front foot when hooker Sam Matavesi put in a cheeky grubber kick down the left flank and outsprinted the French backs only to be denied by inches as the ball trickled out over the dead ball line just before he could reach it.

And when, five minutes later, Volavola kicked for the corner instead of taking an easy three points, the crowd sensed that Fiji had come to town with all the confidence and determination to win.

In 10 attempts, this was Fiji’s first victory over France in a rugby history that dates back to the famous tour of 1964.

It also goes some way to making amends for that tragic game in Toulouse at the 1999 Rugby World Cup when events and Kiwi ref Paddy O’Brien conspired to deny Brad Johnstone’s boys what would have been a deserved victory.

“For this group of players, beating France is a huge achievement,” McKee said.

“We talked before the game that a win tonight would make history for Fiji Rugby.

“I wouldn’t say this was the biggest, but it’s certainly up there with some of Fiji’s best wins. Winning a big game at a World Cup would surpass this.

“A number of our players are in the Top 14, and they know a lot of the French team… they know their strengths and maybe some of the weaknesses as well. This helped the team have the collective belief that they could really do well tonight.

“We looked at France’s games in this autumn Test window and we saw some possible opportunities and we tried our best to exploit those.

“We knew the French team would come at us very hard at the maul and also try to put our scrum under a lot of pressure. So preparing for this match, we put a lot of work into defending those areas.

“Perhaps by negating those parts of the match, we managed to put the French team off their game.”

Skipper Dominiko Waqaniburotu echoed McKee’s sentiments.

“For those of us that play our club rugby here in France, it was very important to win tonight so it’s a big achievement for the boys.

“I’ve been on the other side of a match like this so many times so I know what the French are feeling tonight,” he said.

“I felt we really were defending for the last 20 minutes. I thought France were going to come back and get us at the end.

“I kept telling the boys to keep working, working for each other. It wasn’t until the last second that we knew we had won.”

Despite plenty of end-to-end action, the game remained scoreless until the 20th minute when Radradra brushed aside three or four would-be tacklers on his way to the try-line after a slick line-out move involving young halfback Frank Lomani and lock Tevita Cavubati.

And full credit must go again to Volavola for his piercing 50-metre touchfinder.

As reserve fl y-half Alivereti Veitokani waits for his chance to show what he can do, Volavola has truly stepped up his game these past two weeks.

France hit back quickly, mauling their way to the Fiji try line to even the scores at 7-7.

This is one area of play that Fiji have found hard to cope with and will surely be targeted by their Pool D opponents next year in Japan.

The two French tries came from mauls with skipper and hooker Guilhem Guirado grabbing both.

Fiji’s scrum was near perfect, in attack and defence.

A very solid unit allowed quick ball out to the backs, and when France tried an eight-man shove of their own from 5 metres out, Fiji’s pack held firm.

Tuisova’s try in the right-hand corner stemmed from another clean scrum and a typical Radradra line break.

Leading 12-7 two minutes before half-time, Fiji thought they had extended their lead by another seven points when Radradra picked up a loose ball and went flying down the left before passing inside for Vereniki Goneva to score.

But after an age, English TMO Rowan Kitt decided that there had been an offside in there somewhere.

First half play continued for another nine minutes until Guirado finally crashed over despite a resolute Fiji defence, the kind of which one would not
have seen in years gone by.

Self-belief certainly oozes from this Fiji team.

Fiji kept France pointless in the second half, whilst Volavola added nine points with his boot and the English TMO ruled out another Fijian try – this
time Tuisova being the unlucky one because of a late tackle somewhere else in the move.

French coach Jacques Brunel lamented the fact that his team were never really in the game.

“We thought we were well-prepared and wethought we had the beatingof Fiji; but we never gotinto the match.

“We weren’t able tochange the way the game was going.

“We were physically dominated in the impact and in the rucks.”

“After the matches against South Africa and Argentina, we thought we were going upwards, but all of a sudden we have ground to a halt. We paid attention, we knew the Fijians were dangerous, but we couldn’t find the resources in ourselves to defeat them.”

Skipper Guirado added that he was “very frustrated because we showed disrespect to our jersey.

“It you don’t get the fundamentals right, you can never get into a match, and that’s exactly what happened.

“Now I feel like I lied in the press conference yesterday.

We thought we had prepared well, but we actually lied to each other, we lied to ourselves.

“We never got into the match.

“We were all waiting for the guy next to us to do the job. That’s not how you play rugby.”

The scenes at the end, with most of the Fiji players strewn across the turf through mental and physical exhaustion, underlined just how hard the boys had worked.

This was their day.

They fully deserved it, and will cherish beating France at the home of French rugby for the rest of their careers.

France 14-21 Fiji Saturday 24 November 2018 Stade de France, Paris Half-time: 14-12
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Tom Foley (England), Shuhei Kubo (Japan) TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

France (15-1): Benjamin Fall, Teddy Thomas, Mathieu Bastareaud, Gael Fickou, Yoann Huget, Camille Lopez, Baptiste Serin, Louis Picamoles, Arthur
Iturria, Wenceslas Lauret, Yoann Maestri, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado (capt), Jefferson Poirot.
Reserves (16-23): Julien Marchand, Dany Priso, Demba Bamba, Felix Lambey, Kelian Galletier, Antoine Dupont, Anthony Belleau, Geoffrey Doumayrou. Coach: Jacques Brunel

Tries: Guirado (2); Cons: Serin (2).

Fiji (15-1): Metui Talebula, Josua Tuisova, Semi Radradra, Jale Vatabua, Vereniki Goneva, Ben Volavola, Frank Lomani, Viliame Mata, Peceli Yato,
Dominiko Waqaniburotu, (capt), Leone Nakarawa, Tevita Cavubati, Manasa Saulo, Sam Matavesi, Campese Ma’afu.
Reserves (16-23): Mesulame Dolokoto, Eroni Mawi, Kalivate Tawake, Albert Tuisue, Semi Kunatani, Henry Seniloli, Alivereti Veitokani, Eroni
Sau Coach: John McKee Tries: Radradra, Tuisova; Cons: Volavola; Pens: Volavola (3).

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