Wallabies crash out of World Cup as Fiji scrapes through

Fiji's prop Mesake Doge and teammates salute their supporters after Sunday's match.

Fiji's prop Mesake Doge and teammates salute their supporters after Sunday's match. Photo: Getty

Australia’s ill-fated Rugby World Cup campaign is officially over after Fiji sealed its first quarter-final berth since 2007, despite a drama-charged 24-23 loss to Portugal.

Fiji only needed a losing bonus point in Toulouse to advance to the knockout stages for the first time in 16 years and deny the Wallabies a reprieve.

Despite Portugal snatching a historic first World Cup win with a last-minute conversion from Samuel Marques after a Rodrigo Marta try, Fiji progressed to send the Wallabies packing from France.

Australia had been clinging to the hope of Portugal beating Fiji by eight points or more, which the European underdogs threatened to do for more than an hour on Sunday (Monday AEDT).

But after twice trailing by seven points in the second half, the Pacific islanders jumped out to a six-point advantage before Rodrigo Marta’s last-gasp try and Marques’ conversion sparked joyous scenes at Stadium de Toulouse.

The Wallabies now must pick up the pieces from their worst-ever showing at the global showpiece.

Two-time champion Australia had progressed to at least the quarter-finals in all nine previous editions of the World Cup.

But the youngest side at the 2023 tournament will instead return home from France without contesting the knockout stages in a humiliating new low for the ailing code down under.

The Wallabies’ premature exit will only add to the growing pressure on embattled coach Eddie Jones, whose return this year for a second stint has been nothing less than disastrous.

Jones’s squad arrived at the World Cup winless in five Tests and departed after a record 40-6 loss to Wales, a first defeat to Fiji in 69 years and a pair of unconvincing 20-point victories over minnows Georgia and Portugal.

Rugby Australia’s decision to parachute Jones in to replace the axed Dave Rennie 10 months before the tournament has backfired spectacularly.

The 63-year-old Jones had pledged to steer the Wallabies to World Cup glory in a “smash-and-grab” raid of the Webb Ellis Trophy.

Jones, though, changed tack dramatically after a narrow loss to the All Blacks in September.

Insisting he was building for the future, he dropped veteran playmaker Quade Cooper and also overlooked long-time former captain Michael Hooper in two eyebrow-raising selection calls that brought swift backlash from fans and rugby greats.

Despite all their failures, the Wallabies remained in the hunt to miraculously scrape into the quarter-finals until deep into Monday’s contest between Fiji and Portugal.

The scores were locked at 3-3 after a tryless first half before Portugal rose to the occasion after the break.

First, winger Raffaele Storti brilliantly regathered a deft Pedro grubber kick to score in the right corner.

Then, after flanker Levani Botia crashed over to tie the game up at 10-10, prop Francisco Fernandes restored Os Lobos’s lead with the Europeans’ second try.

Fernandes’s five-pointer came after Botia was yellow-carded for a high tackle but the Fijians managed to regain forward parity upon his return from the sin bin.

Fiji looked to have snatched victory after prop Mesake Doge barged his way over in the 68th minute and Frank Lomani slotted two penalty goals.

But Marques had the final say – at Australia’s expense.

Wales topped Pool C, with Fiji edging out the Wallabies for second spot on a countback courtesy of their 22-15 win over Australia in St Etienne.


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