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FIJI managed to overcome a stubborn Italy side in Canberra yesterday, thanks to another supreme display of try-scoring from Suliasi Vunivalu. Their victory sets up a mouthwatering quarter-final tie against the loser of this morning’s game between New Zealand and Tonga.
Italy were trying something different from the outset in an attempt to stifle an opposition who have lit up the tournament so far. Fiji dismantled Wales last week with a record breaking 72-6 victory, as Vunivalu’s hat-trick took him to the top of the try-scoring charts alongside Tonga’s Michael Jennings.
A short kick-off from the Italians signalled their intention to mix things up, and they won possession instantly. Their plan was scuppered somewhat when Jayden Walker was sent to the sin-bin for interfering in the ruck as Fiji broke.
It was deemed a professional foul by referee Robert Hicks, and the second-rower spent 10 minutes on the sideline, but during that time his side took a surprise lead when Josh Mantellato flew over in the corner following Terry Campese’s long pass.
Fiji replied through Kevin Naiqama, who pounced after an awkward bounce evaded an unfortunate Mantellato.
The game became heated as numerous penalties and scrappy incidents interrupted its flow, but it was entertaining nonetheless. A scuffle broke out when Joe Tramontana charged into a tackle with his fist, prompting Jarryd Hayne to come in and protect his teammate.
Tramontana was lucky to only be sin-binned, while Hayne might count himself unlucky to join him. The two exchanged words as the sides went into the changing rooms at half-time, just after Henry Raiwalui had crossed for Fiji to give them a 12-4 lead.
Italy began the second half in style with a unique try. Nathan Milone booted a loose ball off the floor after his side had kicked ahead, following up to collect and score as the ball bounced favourably.
But Fiji eventually took control of the game, albeit a little later than had been expected. Brayden Wiliame powered through the defensive line to cruise over for a try, before Vunivalu found himself clear, and there is only one outcome in that situation. He did so twice more to complete his obligatory hat-trick, and Marcelo Montoya added a late four-pointer for good measure.
“We played a bit too much footy in that first half and lost the ball a few times,” said Fijian man of the match Apisai Koroisau. “But the boys responded well in the second half and came home strong.
“We’ve worked hard to get where we are. We’ve had a lot of expectation on ourselves and we’re proud to make it to the quarter-finals, and hopefully we can take it one step further to the semis.”
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