New Zealand survived a major scare as Jordan Rapana’s late try sealed a 24-18 win over Fiji in their World Cup quarter-final at the MKM Stadium in Hull.
Fiji had led for much of the match but Rapana kicked a late penalty to put his side ahead for the first time then claimed the clinching try to set up a semi-final meeting with Australia.
The Fijians ended the first half 12-6 in front with tries from Maika Sivo and Kevin Naiqama, both converted by Brandon Wakeham.
New Zealand pulled a try back when Ronaldo Mulitalo touched down and Rapana converted deep into the first period as Michael Maguire’s side struggled to impose themselves on the game.
Naiqama scored his second try early in the second half but New Zealand quickly replied through Briton Nikora.
Joseph Manu’s try and a third conversion from Rapana meant it was all to play for with 15 minutes remaining.
New Zealand went 20-18 ahead with Rapana’s penalty eight minutes from the end and his try then sealed the comeback win.
Some great handling from Fiji saw them claim the opening score with 12 minutes gone as Sivo went over in the left corner and Wakeham added the extras from out wide to put his side 6-0 in front.
Fiji extended their lead midway through the first half as Sunia Turuva fed captain Naiqama, who came in off the right wing to arrow through a gap and touch down behind the posts, with Wakeham making it 12-0 with his second successful kick.
New Zealand were finally on the scoreboard with 14 minutes of the half remaining as Mulitalo scored in the left corner and Rapana converted to reduce the arrears to six points.
Mulitalo’s run from deep inside his own half after collecting a high kick nearly paid dividends but a fine tackle by Turuva halted the attack before New Zealand knocked on from the next play.
Fiji pressed late in the half for a third try and were kept at bay but had still done enough to take an unexpected but deserved 12-6 lead into the break.
They clearly meant business at the start of the second half as Naiqama just managed to touch down inside five minutes after going over following a dummied pass to the right wing. Wakeham’s third kick stretched the advantage to 18-6.
But New Zealand quickly responded with their second try as Nikora broke out of a tackle short of the line to touch down and Rapana’s kick made it a six-point game once more.
New Zealand claimed a third try as Manu finished off a fine flowing move by cutting inside from the left and Rapana tied the game up at 18-18 with 15 minutes to go.
Fiji were penalised for stripping the ball in the tackle and Rapana’s penalty put his side ahead for the first time in the game before he scored their fourth try in the corner to seal the comeback win, even if he failed to add the conversion.