An eight-minute hat-trick from Suliasi Vunivalu helped Fiji progress to the quarter-finals with a fine 38-10 win over Italy at the Canberra Stadium on Friday.
Italy opened the scoring through Josh Mantellato before Kevin Naiqama and Henry Raiwalui made the score 12-4 to Fiji at half-time.
The Azzurri again scored first in the second half through Nathan Milone but tries from Brayden Wiliame, Vunivalu (3) and Marcelo Montoya saw the Bati go through to the quarter-finals with three wins from three in Group D.
Cameron Ciraldo made two changes to his Italy side that beat the USA last weekend. Richard Lepori and Terry Campese came in to replace Chris Centrone and Justin Castellaro.
Mick Potter also made two changes to his Fiji outfit that eased past Wales last time out. Salesi Faingaa and Joe Lovodua were replaced by Brayden Wiliame and James Storer.
It was a great to the game for both sides, with Italy throwing as much as what Fiji were throwing at them in the opening ten minutes.
The Azzurri were dealt a blow though in the 11th minute when back-rower Jayden Walker was sin-binned for committing a professional foul after he failed to clear the ruck.
James Tedesco then produced a superb try-saving tackle as he forced Marcelo Montoya into touch just a couple of inches away from the try-line.
Suliasi Vunivalu thought he had scored for Fiji when he darted under the sticks but the video referee chalked it off due to an obstruction earlier on in the play.
The Azzurri opened the scoring in the 19th minute while they still had a man less than Fiji. It went through quick hands down the line to Josh Mantellato who finished brilliantly right in the corner. He couldn’t convert his own try though but Italy were 4-0 up.
Fiji came back into the game as Kevin Naiqama capitalised on Josh Mantellato failing to deal with a kick to touch down. Api Koroisau converted to put his side into a narrow 6-4 lead.
There were two more players sent to the sin-bin just past the half hour mark. Italy hooker was sin-binned for throwing a punch in a tackle while Jarryd Hayne was shown a yellow card for running into the challenge and getting involved in a melee.
The Bati had a little breathing space when heading into the break as they scored their second. Scrum-half Henry Raiwalui showed great support play to go over. Koroisau’s boot made the score 12-4 to Fiji at the interval.
HALF TIME: Fiji 12–4 Italy.
Italy started the second-40 in brilliant fashion as they scored an exceptional breakway try, possibly the best of the World Cup, to score through Nathan Milone. Mantellato added the extras and Italy only trailed by 12-10 after 42 minutes.
The Bati bounced back 11 minutes later though. Catalans Dragons ace Brayden Wiliame went over out wide after a fine run by Hayne. The conversion went wide but Fiji were 16-10 to the good.
Vunivalu was denied a try in the first half but got his try on the hour mark as he scooted from the halfway line to burst through a gap and score. Koroisau converted to put Fiji 22-10 ahead.
The Bati were in control in the final quarter and stretched their lead as Vunivalu cottoned onto a kick through from Taane Milne. The conversion was successful from Milne, Fiji 28-10 Italy.
Melbourne Storm star Vunivalu completed his hat-trick by scoring all three of his tries in eight minutes. Milne’s conversion was good at Fiji led 34-10 with 13 minutes left on the clock.
Italy were struggling to deal with Fiji in the latter stages of the game as Naiqama threw a fine cut-out pass to Marcelo Montoya who touched down out wide. Taane Milne couldn’t convert but the Bati ran-out 38-10 winners to progress to the quarter-finals with three wins from three group games.
FULL TIME: Fiji 38–10 Italy.
Fiji – 38
Tries: Naiqama, Raiwalui, Wiliame, Vunivalu 3, Montoya
Goals: Koroisau 3/4, Milne 2/3
Italy – 10
Tries: Mantellato, Milone
Goals: Mantellato 1/2
Loverugbyleague.com MOM: Api Koroisau
Fiji: 1. Kevin Naiqama, 2. Suliasi Vunivalu, 3. Taane Milne, 4. Akuila Uate, 5. Marcelo Montoya, 6. Jarryd Hayne, 7. Henry Raiwalui, 8. Ashton Sims, 9. Api Koroisau, 10. Eloni Vunakece, 11. Viliame Kikau, 12. Brayden Wiliame, 13. Tui Kamikamica.
Interchange: 15. Jacob Saifiti, 16. Junior Roqica, 17. Ben Nakubuwai, 18. James Storer.
Italy: 2. Mason Cerruto, 20. Richard Lepori, 18. Christophe Calegari, 4. Nathan Milone, 5. Josh Mantellato, 1. James Tedesco, 6. Terry Campese, 8. Paul Vaughan, 9. Joey Tramontana, 10. Daniel Alvaro, 17. Jayden Walker, 12. Mark Minichiello, 13. Nathan Brown.
Interchange: 7. Ryan Ghietti, 11. Joel Riethmuller, 15. Brendan Santi, 16. Shannon Wakeman.
Referee – Robert Hicks