Karalaini Naisewa scored the winning try in the dying seconds as Fiji secured their first ever women’s World Cup win with a 21-17 victory over South Africa in an entertaining, if sometimes chaotic Pool C match, in Auckland on Sunday.
The South Africans looked like they had secured a first win of the tournament when flyhalf Libbie Janse van Rensburg slotted a penalty to break a 14-14 deadlock with two minutes on the clock.
The Fijiana, playing in their first World Cup, charged back down the other end on yet another bulldozing run from prop Siteri Rasolea, the Player of the Match, and earned a penalty under the posts.
In keeping with the spirit of the way the Fijiana had approached the game, scrumhalf Lavena Cavuru tapped the ball and fed number eight Naisewa, who launched herself over the line through the despairing tackles of an exhausted defence.
“It means the whole world to us, it’s crazy,” said Fiji captain Asinate Serevi.
“It’s the biggest stage in the world and winning one game pretty much means winning the whole thing for us, for our team, for our country.”
Grouped with European heavyweights England and France, the two teams were always going to struggle to get into the knockout stages, even as one of the two third-placed sides who will progress to the quarter-finals.
There was no stinting in effort from either side in the final match of the second weekend of the tournament, however, and some of the collisions at Waitakere Stadium were brutal.
The Fijiana, thrashed last week by England, ran pretty much every piece of possession they had and eschewed the breakdown where they could by offloading to try and breach the steely South African defence.
Rather than tighten up the match, South Africa joined in the fun with centre Zintle Mpupha’s first-half try coming from a free-wheeling run around the backfield and then through a big gap in the defence.
Tries from wingers Ilisapeci Delaiwau and Akanisi Sokoiwasa gave Fiji a 14-7 halftime lead, but outstanding South Africa number eight Aseza Hele levelled up the scores by crossing around the hour mark.
“At the beginning we saw that Fiji was speeding up the game, which was something we knew was going to happen,” said crestfallen South African skipper Nolusindiso Booi.
“We just failed to implement our own plan and we let them take it.”