/ 10 September 2011

Fiji slip through Namibia’s fingers

Fiji survived an unexpectedly stiff challenge from African minnows Namibia on Saturday in a pulsating World Cup game which briefly threatened one of the tournament’s great upsets.

The two-time quarterfinalists had four tries through right wing Vereniki Goneva alone to win 42-25 but they were forced to defend for much of the match as Namibia sniffed their first World Cup finals victory.

Despite their defeat, Namibia — handed a World Cup record 142-0 thrashing by Australia just four years ago — enjoyed their highest score and closest result in four appearances at rugby’s showpiece.

And the Welwitschias, orchestrated by superb fly-half Theuns Kotze, took great satisfaction from keeping tiring Fiji on the defence for much of the second half in an engrossing spectacle at the Rotorua International Stadium.

“I’m very proud of how the guys came back, it’s typical of our character,” said Namibia coach Johan Diergaardt. “If our defence was a little bit better, sharper at certain stanzas, we would have been in with a chance.”

Set goals
Fiji coach Samu Domoni admitted the team would have to put their “thinking caps” on as they contemplate next week’s daunting second game against defending champions South Africa.

“It’s down to the goals we’ve set and individual preparation, lapses in concentration, those are the things that we’re looking at and a few other things,” he said.

“We’ve got the whole night tonight to talk about that before we put together our game plan for next week.”

It was the boot of Kotze against Fiji’s try-scoring genius in the first half as the Namibian stand-off, starting just his second Test, nailed three drop goals in just four minutes to put the Pacific islanders on the back foot.

But Sevens specialists Fiji dazzled with the ball in hand and Goneva rampaged down the right flank for a first-half hat-trick alongside a lone effort from second-row forward Leone Nakarawa to make it 32-15 at half-time.

Lift the intensity
Namibia had denied Fiji possession for long periods of the first half and they burst through for a long-threatened first try after the break, as forward Heinz Koll’s neat dummy ended a move from deep within their own territory.

Fiji’s Goneva hit back with his fourth score but Namibia ran in their second through full-back Chrysander Botha on 56 minutes, setting up a spell of heavy pressure with the scores at 39-25.

However, Fiji’s France-based centre Seremaia Bai put the game effectively out of reach with a penalty before Naipolioni Nalaga crossed in the dying minutes for their sixth and final try.

Fiji, currently at their worst ever world ranking of 15 after a string of poor results, face South Africa in Wellington next Saturday before playing Samoa and Wales in Group D.

“We will have to lift our intensity for the full 80 minutes and make sure we lift our intensity and capitalise on all the opportunities that we have for tries,” said Fiji captain Deacon Manu of the match-up with South Africa.

“We have to make sure that we convert every opportunity that we can and make sure the guys express themselves and we play that kind of rugby that we want to play.” — AFP