OSAKA (Reuters) - Fiji finally found their feet at the Rugby World Cup with a dominant 45-10 victory over Georgia on Thursday as their jet-heeled backs tore their Pool D rivals apart in a seven-try rout at a rain-drenched Hanazono Rugby Stadium.
Winger Semi Radradra scored twice and made three others as the Pacific islanders rebounded from defeats to Australia and Uruguay to get their first win in Japan.
While their upset loss to Uruguay has all but put paid to their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals, Fiji are now in pole position to finish third and qualify for the 2023 World Cup.
Former Australia rugby league international Radradra was at the heart of their best moves and grabbed a brace as well as helping set up scores for centre Waisea Nayacalevu, scrumhalf Frank Lomani and his fellow winger Josua Tuisova.
Georgia fought hard and had a try from totemic flanker Mamuka Gorgodze but tired towards the end as Fiji flanker Semi Kunatani and lock Apisalome Ratuniyarawa crossed to widen the scoreline.
“Very pleasing today, that was a great effort from the boys,” said Fiji coach John McKee. “A real arm wrestle for the first 45 or 50 minutes but to come home so strong and score some really good tries, really pleasing.
“It’s great to see us scoring some tries out wide and showing our talents to the world.”
Georgia coach Milton Haig spoke in the buildup to the match about the importance of stopping the Fijians’ running game but he conceded his side had no answer to their lightning attacks.
“Once you let them get in behind you with those line breaks, they’re pretty hard to stop,” said Haig. “They’re the best in the world at open play.”
The heavens opened shortly before kickoff and made for an untidy opening as the ball squirted in an out of players’ hands, the Fijians making nine handling errors in the first half alone.
Georgia fullback Soso Matiashvili looked to have given them the lead with a penalty in the 15th minute but after some indecision from the judges the kick was ruled to have slid wide.
The Georgians would pay for that miss minutes later when Ben Volavola’s kick through was gathered by Radradra and his flicked inside pass released Nayacalevu for a clear run to the line.
A terrific Georgian break took them from one end of the field the other and while they knocked on just short of the line play was called back for a penalty, which Matiashvili converted.
Replays showed Fiji wing Tuisova was fortunate not to have been carded after his swinging arm caught Alexander Todua on the head in the buildup, though referee Paul Williams took no action.
Fiji took full advantage of drier conditions early in the second half and went further ahead five minutes after the break.
With the referee playing penalty advantage, fullback Kini Murimurivalu shipped a pass wide to Radradra, who shurgged off a couple of Georgian tacklers to feed inside runner Lomani for the score.
Their third arrived shortly after as Fiji worked the ball wide from a lineout and Radradra again delivered the dagger, biding his time to invite the Georgian challenge before releasing Tuisova in the corner.
Georgia hit back with a try to Gorgodze, the flanker bashing his way over the line after the Fijians had totally misjudged the flight of the ball from the kickoff.
Tuisova, put in for a try by Radradra in the first half, then returned the favour as his well-timed pass opened up a lane for the flying Fijian left wing and he turned on the jets to score in style.
Fiji’s fifth and sixth tries came in quick succession, Kunatani going over from a few yards out before replacement Ratuniyarawa finished off a sweeping move from inside their own half.
The Fijians got their seventh try four minutes before the end, Radradra sprinting clear after Georgia had coughed up the ball in their own territory.
Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Tokyo; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty