RLWC Match Report: Fiji v New Zealand
Fiji has pulled off a historic victory and progressed through to the Semi-Finals as they narrowly edged out New Zealand in a try-less encounter, winning 4-2 at Wellington Stadium.
Fiji dominated for most of the match but were never able to break through New Zealand’s brick wall defence as both teams struggled to find the try-line with the only points coming from penalty kicks.
The match sat on a knife’s edge for the whole 80 minutes making for a thrilling encounter which saw Fiji progress through to their third straight World Cup Semi-Final.
From the kick-off, Fiji set up camp in New Zealand territory as they continually raided the home sides in goal.
The closest opportunity of the first half came shortly after kick off when Fiji’s, Brayden Wiliame, charged towards the line to only be denied by a great try saving tackle from NZ fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Fiji then dug their feet in and refused to leave the Kiwis end of the field as they racked up 41 tackles in the opposition 20, but to New Zealand’s credit, they were unable to break through their stubborn defence.
The only points of the first half came in the 15th minute after Ashton Sims was held down in a tackle gifting Fiji a penalty kick right in front of the posts for an easy two-point lead.
New Zealand’s player stocks took a hit after 22 minutes of play, when upcoming forward Joseph Tapine injured his leg, before bravely returning to the field in the second half.
Fiji enjoyed 75% of the possession in the first half which forced New Zealand to make almost 100 more tackles than the Bati side.
New Zealand had their best chance of the opening stanza but were unable to find the line as the siren echoed around Wellington stadium signalling the end of the equal lowest first-half scoreline in World Cup history.
As the second half got underway, New Zealand finally found their first points of the match just one minute after the break, when Shaun Johnson slotted a penalty kick from right in front to bring the scores level.
But the good news quickly turned bad for New Zealand when prolific winger, Jordan Rapana was sin-binned for a professional foul following an 80-meter line break from Fiji.
Fiji sensed it was time to strike as the Kiwis defensive line scrambled to contain the Fijians relentless attack. But the normally clinical Fijians were unable to find the try line before Rapana returned to the field.
The in the 62nd minute, Fiji finally found a way to regain the lead, thanks to another penalty kick which was expertly guided over the posts by Taane Milne to give Fiji a 4-2 advantage.
With five minutes remaining Fijian fullback, Kevin Naiqama lost the ball while returning a kick to give New Zealand great attacking territory and a chance to steal the game in the dying moments.
But after finding some space down the sideline, Jordan Rapana kicked back infield for his centre partner who frantically pursued the ball.
But despite, Brad Takairangi's best effort, the ball bounced over the dead ball line as the Fijian fans erupted with joy as the Fiji Bati recorded a historic underdog victory of New Zealand and progress through to the Semi-Finals.
The 4-2 triumph means Fiji will play Australia for a spot in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Final next week.
James Coman | @JamesComan1
Rugby League World Cup 2017 Reporter