Tonga beat France 19-14 in the biggest upset of the Rugby World Cup to send its opponent into the quarterfinals on a run of two straight losses. England and Australia advanced to the last eight with victories.
Tonga, ranked No. 13 by the International Rugby Board, secured the win yesterday with Sukanaivalu Hufanga’s try and 14 points from the boot of Kurt Morath. Vincent Clerc touched down for fifth-ranked France in the final seconds in Wellington to secure a losing bonus point and the Pool A runner-up spot.
France, which lost to tournament host New Zealand last week, joined the All Blacks in the quarterfinals and will face Pool B winner England in Auckland on Oct. 8. Fiji, at the inaugural World Cup in 1987, is the only other team to have advanced to the quarterfinals after two pool phase defeats.
“Never has qualification tasted as bitter as this,” France coach Marc Lievremont said in a news conference. “I trust my players. I trust them to fight back.”
England beat Scotland 16-12 in Auckland last night to lock up first place in their pool and put the Scots on the brink of elimination, while Australia routed Russia 68-22 in Nelson to move atop Pool C.
Five of the eight quarterfinal spots are filled heading into today’s last round of group games. Italy and Ireland play for the right to join the Wallabies in advancing from their pool, while Argentina and Wales can seal the runner-up spots in Pools B and D by beating Georgia and Fiji, respectively. The All Blacks close Pool A play against Canada.
Chris Ashton’s 78th-minute try put England ahead of Scotland for the first time in the match at Eden Park. It came after replacement fly-half Toby Flood kicked for a lineout rather than take a penalty shot with his team trailing 12-9.
A drop goal and penalty from Jonny Wilkinson, who missed four of his six shots at goal, had pulled England within three points of Scotland, which led 9-3 at half time.
“Sometimes the World Cup is not about winning fancy,” Ashton said in a televised interview. “We were cutting it quite fine. Scotland did a great job.”
Chris Paterson and Dan Parks each kicked six points for Scotland, which needs Georgia to beat Argentina and deny the Pumas any bonus points to extend its run of always reaching the World Cup quarterfinals.
“It’s tough to take,” Scotland captain Alastair Kellock said in a televised interview. “We put in an outstanding effort for most of the game and once again we slipped at crucial times. I’m gutted.”
Tonga Upsets France
Tonga, which needed to score at least four tries to have any chance of advancing at the 20-nation tournament, led France 13-6 at halftime and extended its lead to 19-9 with two Morath penalties before Clerc’s late score in the corner.
The victory margin could have been greater had Morath not missed four of his eight penalties and Samiu Vahafolau not squandered a clear try-scoring opportunity. France had only previously lost World Cup games against teams who have reached the semifinals at least once.
“I have a lot of respect for the French team, but tonight they didn’t really turn up,” Tonga coach Isitolo Maka said in a news conference. “For us to beat France is very special.”
Australia’s 10-try rout of Russia in Nelson came at a cost as Drew Mitchell, who touched down twice, suffered a hamstring injury that Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said was likely to end the winger’s tournament.
“Obviously he’s bitterly disappointed,” Australia captain James Horwill said in a news conference. “He wants us to go on and do the job we’re here to do.”
Nine From 10
Berrick Barnes and David Pocock also crossed the line twice for Australia, which ran in seven first-half tries to lead 47-5 at the break before being pegged back by Russia.
The Bears, playing in their first World Cup, outscored Australia in the second-half until Barnes went over for his second try with two minutes remaining. James O’Connor kicked his ninth conversion from 10 attempts to complete the scoring.
The win lifted Australia atop Pool C with 15 points from four games as Russia ended its campaign with a fourth straight defeat. The Wallabies will finish atop the group if Ireland loses to Italy today and fails to gain two bonus points.
Should Ireland top the pool, then Australia will face defending champion South Africa in the quarterfinals on Oct. 9 in Wellington. The Springboks beat Samoa 13-5 two days ago to seal first place in Pool D and secure their record 11th straight victory in World Cup games.
“South Africa have shown they’re very much World Cup exponents,” Deans said. “They’re building nicely.”