Fiji shock New Zealand to make World Cup last four

Written By: BBC
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Fiji
Fiji were creative, courageous and with a little more cutting edge might have won by a bigger margin

Fiji will play Australia in the semi-finals of the Rugby League World Cup after winning a tense and scrappy match against New Zealand in Wellington.

Fiji dominated the opening half but only had two points from a Apisai Koroisau penalty at the break.

Shaun Johnson levelled before Taane Milne scored the decisive points with another penalty after 62 minutes.

It was a shock result but a deserved one in what was only the second try-less match in World Cup history.

And there were incredibly emotional scenes afterwards, with numerous Fiji players crying as they celebrated by singing hymns.

Earlier, Tonga survived a major scare to beat Lebanon 24-22 in a thrilling match in Christchurch.

Fiji and New Zealand sing a joint hymn after their match
There were plenty of emotional and moving scenes before and after the match, sandwiched in between were some brutal big hits

Punching through the glass ceiling

Australia, New Zealand and England are the three established tier one teams in rugby league – but there is growing evidence during this tournament that the number of competitive nations is on the rise.

Tonga defeated the Kiwis is a stunning match in Hamilton last weekend and now Fiji have pulled off another huge shock.

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Fiji have always had talented players and favoured an attractive brand of football – hence they have reached the past three World Cup semi-finals.

But defeating the Kiwis in Wellington is an outstanding achievement on another level, and one that was fully deserved after an absorbing if scrappy match.

Fiji were particularly dominant in the opening 40 minutes – 62% possession, 934m gained against 575m from New Zealand – but perhaps lacked a little composure and execution close to the opposition line.

Offloading and jinking mazy runs allied to some thunderous tackling and an incredible commitment was enough to see them home but they will have to find another level against the imperious Kangaroos in Brisbane next weekend.

“We slayed a giant tonight,” said half-back Jarryd Hayne. “You don’t see this very often but this win goes to our belief in God.

“We are in the business of slaying giants, it is the biggest test next week, it is as simple as that. We have a big week ahead of us and will prepare well.”

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New Zealand hooker Danny Levi
Danny Levi with that haunted look you get when your World Cup campaign ends badly. The plaster doesn’t help. This is the first time New Zealand have not made the semi-final stage since the expansion of the Rugby League World Cup in 1995

A crushing World Cup for the Kiwis

The accepted pre-tournament logic had it that New Zealand would win their group and play England in a semi-final in Auckland on 25 November.

That went out of the window when the Kiwis lost to Tonga and ended up in the same half of the draw as holders and overwhelming favourites Australia.

But the defeat against Fiji means that they will not even get the chance to test themselves against their Trans-Tasman rivals.

There was arguably little sign of what was to come when they followed up their 38-8 win over Samoa with a 74-6 demolition of Scotland.

But they let a 16-2 lead slip against Tonga and never recovered in what must ultimately be judged as a bitterly disappointing campaign for one of the tournament’s three host nations.

They were battered and bruised for long periods in Wellington and never really looked like breaching the Fiji line.

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Arguably the nearest they came was when explosive full-back Roger Tuivasa-Sheck found himself in open space and closing in on the Fiji line but he still had men to beat and lost his footing at a crucial moment.

“We didn’t play smart – again, errors in the first tackle that put us under pressure,” said coach David Kidwell afterwards.

“We need to translate the commitment to smart performances – that is the most frustrating part.

“But those young guys know what it means to represent the Kiwis, know what it takes, the standards that have been set.”

New Zealand: Tuivasa-Sheck, Watene-Zelezniak, Whare, Takairangi, Rapana, Martin, Johnson, Taupau, Levi, Waerea-Hargreaves, Mannering, Tapine, Blair.

Replacements: Asofa-Solomona, Packer, Liu, Nikorima.

Fiji: Naiqama, Vunivalu, Milne, Uate, Montoya, Hayne, Raiwalui, A. Sims, Koroisau, Vunakece, Kikau, Wiliame, Kamikamica.

Replacements: Lovodua, Saifiti, Roqica, Nakubuwai.

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