SAINT-ETIENNE, France (AP) — Australia is on the brink of making the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals. And on the brink of missing out.
The Wallabies don't have another game scheduled. Yet they can't go home because they might have another game.
Their fate is in a void partly of their own making but they have to keep training just in case while they wander about France for another week.
The Wallabies are the ‘Walking Dead’ of the Rugby World Cup.
Beating Portugal 34-14 with a bonus point on Sunday wrapped up the Wallabies' campaign in Pool C and lifted them into second place, which is a quarterfinal position.
But Fiji is a point behind them in third and has a game in hand, against Portugal next Sunday in Toulouse.
Fiji's mission seems simple: Take at least one point against Portugal — win, draw, loss by seven or scoring four tries.
Do that, and the Fijians advance and the Wallabies are knocked out.
But they're not out quite yet after smothering a ferocious comeback by Portugal to win their gripping first matchup.
“We're still alive. That was the aim of the day,” Australia coach Eddie Jones said. “For a young team down to 13 men we showed plenty of courage and fought hard.”
The Wallabies are in a strange limbo now as a consequence of their 2-2 pool record and the unprecedented extension of the pool stage by one week by the French organizers.
“I've never experienced this before,” Jones said. “We're anticipating we'll be in the quarterfinals so we have plans to have three days off and then three days training. We'll see on Sunday night. Portugal played with plenty of spirit tonight so you never know.”
Portugal couldn’t put Australia out of its misery on Sunday but it warmed the hearts in a packed Stade Geoffroy-Guichard with its daring and style.
Os Lobos scored two tries and had two others disallowed. Crucially, when Australia was reduced to 14 and 13 men around an hour in, the Portuguese couldn't finish numerous lineout maul chances in a dominant 20-minute period that kept Jones on his feet in the coaches box.
The depleted Wallabies' scramble defense allowed only a converted try from replacement No. 8 Rafael Simoes off a scrum with 10 minutes to go. But that sustained effort exhausted the Portuguese.
Australia, despite an average 20 caps per man, showed its IQ and clinical edge when Samu Kerevi came out of the sin-bin and his surge up the middle was finished by the enigmatic Marika Koroibete. Australia's fifth try capped the scoring.
“We are really proud for what we gave but it is a loss,” Portugal captain Tomas Appleton said. “We still have one more shot to show what we can do next week, but we are a bit disappointed.”
The Portuguese underdogs rewarded the crowd's overwhelming favor by landing the first big punch in the 12th minute. Their scrum shoved the Australians back, Appleton straightened the attack and got back in line to throw a double miss-out pass to center partner Pedro Bettencourt to score untouched.
Samuel Marques hit the sideline conversion for a second huge cheer, but the match turned moments later.
Bettencourt was sin-binned for an upright head tackle on opposite Izaia Perese, and the Wallabies were ruthless with the man advantage.
Smashing carries by Angus Bell and Valetini set up Richard Arnold to score beside the posts. Bell then won a scrum penalty, Ben Donaldson reeled off a 50-meter touch-finder and a lineout maul drove captain Dave Porecki across. A counterattack released Lalakai Foketi on the right wing and Bell charged over off ruck ball.
Three converted tries in six minutes rushed Australia from 7-3 behind to 24-7 in front.
Just before the break, fullback Andrew Kellaway tackled Nicolas Martins' leg over the touchline before he touched down.
The Wallabies' maintained control on the scoreboard with the bonus-point fourth try finished by Fraser McReight. But then replacements Matt Faessler and Kerevi were yellow-carded and somehow the under-manned Wallabies pack on their tryline still outmuscled the Portuguese.
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