Wales march on but Fiji’s flair gives them a big scare
Pacific Islanders started off quickly and raced into lead but Gatland’s men hit back
Liam Williams of Wales scores his team’s fourth try during the Rugby World Cup win over Fiji. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Wales 29 Fiji 17
Wales march on, in agony.
Fiji remains a sporting tragedy. The World Cup ends for them now, cursed by a four-day turnaround that led to Uruguay’s momentous victory in Kamaishi after being scandalously denied the chance to beat a 14-man Australia and they leave Japan filled with bitterness.
It’s rugby’s greatest sin. The Pacific Islanders should be eternal contenders, champions elect even, instead they are also-rans yet again.
Unquestionably the supreme rugby nation, ransacked of teenage talent by - take your pick from French clubs, New Zealand schools, Australian Rugby League - the Grand Slam Welsh could barely cope with their power, pace and most of all their panache.
It was 68 minutes before the Fijians wilted and Liam Williams finished off the bonus point clinching try through a litter of white jerseys.
Warren Gatland emptied the bench but Alun Wyn Jones needed to play the full 80 and scrumhalf Gareth Davies finished on the wing.
Gatland must regenerate his charges to beat Uruguay on Sunday but Pool D will almost certainly be topped with the losers of France versus England waiting in the quarter-final.
Fiji go home. Just like they threatened the Wallabies, this Super Typhoon faded in the face of structured, well-drilled rugby.
The referees remain centre stage. Here was yet another game full of big calls, four sin-binnings and four disallowed tries, but the officials are communicating with clarity and seeking to avoid human error. They deserve some credit.
So do the vanquished. Fiji’s war dance is called The Cibi. Instead of using it to electrify the psyche seconds before kick-off, the game’s great entertainers loosen up with a trot and huddle after all that crouching, leaping and screaming.
They seek a calm spirit but it was bedlam whenever they attacked, particularly with Semi Radradra on the loose. He’s a superstar (probably a Rugby League superstar unless a French club intervenes with a better offer).
It took three minutes to splinter Wales. Josh Adams on the left wing was the repeated target and not because he is a poor defender but because the best finisher around is Josua Tuisova. The Lyon winger bumped Adams before touching down with balletic skills despite Dan Biggar and Josh Navidi hanging out of him.
Wonderful try but Ben Volavola missed the touch line conversion.
Helter-skelter rugby ensued, with Navidi answering back down the other end but Garces went back for a Hadleigh Parks knock on in the tackle.
The clock ticked over seven minutes when Fiji struck again. Radradra’s offload put scrumhalf Frank Lomani over but it was deemed to have gone forward. No try. Wales got a double let-off as the officials decided Welsh hooker Ken Owens’ tip tackle on Viliame Mata only warranted a yellow card.
“The white player lands on his back,” said Garces. “In my view it will be a yellow card against two red.”
“I agree with you,” said Television Match Official Ben Skeen.
Fijian captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu wondered aloud: “Not dangerous?”
From the very next passage of play fullback Kini Murimurivalu ignored the Tuisova option - having slipped another attempted tackle by Adams - to make it 10-0.
Volavola missed another touchline conversion. It mattered. Adams was not going to take the shame of coughing up two scores lying down. How about a hat-trick in response?
With 17 minutes gone, a perfect kick pass by Biggar found the Swansea man. Biggar nailed the tough conversion.
Wales had settled. The numerical advantage was gone as Tevita Cavubati walked for what Garces deemed a “clear shoulder charge in the back.”
“Captains,” yelled the French whistler. “16 minutes and two yellow cards. We need the discipline.”
Fiji openside Semi Kunatani brought it up to three yellows for blatant offside on 28 minutes.
That’s when the Wales scrum turned the screw. Adams profited with his second try down the short side. Biggar converted to leave Wales 14-10 ahead at the turn.
Fiji kept threatening to rip them open. Volavola almost grabbed an insane intercept. Tuisova was denied another try by a borderline forward pass. Radradra was impervious. That right foot stutter step and lethal offload has all the Rugby League vultures circling.
When James Davies brought the sin bin count to four, for killing ball, the Fijians’ maul forced a penalty try from Garces.
The game was still alive.
Biggar’s head blow on 55 minutes showed the gruesome side of rugby. It was a treble knock as Liam Williams’ elbow caught his outhalf mid-air, he smashed onto the grass and then he caught Williams’ leg. Biggar has a history of concussion. He jogged off the pitch. There was no need for a head injury assessment (either that or Biggar instantly failed it because he was back on the bench within a few minutes).
Rhys Patchell arrived and Wales did not miss a beat. The British Lions stood up. Wyn Jones put a tremendous hit in on Mata as Fiji thundered into them.
Then, on the hour mark, Jonathan Davies’ clean fend on Jale Vatubua and out the back offload saw Adams dive over at the corner flag.
Players were dropping all over the paddock. Davies could not continue.
Fiji refused to go quietly. In particular, Tuisova and Radradra punched holes in the usually impenetrable Shaun Edwards constructed defence. Radradra emptied Liam Williams in another heavy contact but the brilliant Saracens fullback found space when it really mattered.
The end scene was so sad. Fijians, each man on his own, down on one knee. Sore looking Welsh men picked them up but they know they are better than this. They know they deserve better than this. The World Cup moves on without rugby’s true artists.
Scoring sequence – 3 mins: J Tuisova try, 5-0; 8 mins: K Murimurivalu try, 10-0; 17 mins: J Adams try, 10-5; D Biggar con, 10-7; 30 mins: J Adams try, 10-12; D Biggar con, 10-14; 54 mins: Pen Try, 17-14; 57 mins: R Patchell pen, 17-17; 60 mins: J Adams try 17-22; 68 mins: L Williams try, 17-27; R Patchell con 17-29.
Wales: Liam Williams; George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parks, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis; Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones (capt); Josh Navidi, James Davies, Ross Moriarthy.
Replacements: E Dee for J Davies (14-18 mins, 67 mins), Rhys Patchell for D Biggar (55 mins), Owen Watkin for J Davies (61 mins), Aaron Wainwright for J Davies (67 mins), Thomos Williams for J Adams (69 mins), Rhys Care for W Jones, Dillon Lewis for T Francis, Aaron Shingler for J Ball (all 70 mins).
Fiji: Kini Murimurivalu; Josua Tuisova, Waisea Nayacalevu, Levani Botia, Semi Radradra; Ben Volavola, Frank Lomani; Campese Ma’afu, Samuel Matavesi, Manasa Saulo; Tevita Cavubati Leone Nakarawa; Dominiko Waqaniburotu (capt), Semi Kunatani, Viliame Mata.
Replacements: Joe Vatubua for L Botica (32 mins), Peni Ravai for M Saulo (51 mins), Eroni Mawi for C Ma’afu (half-time), Peceli Yato for V Mata (62 mins), Api Ratuniyarawa for T Cavubati (63 mins), Nikola Matawalu for F Lomani (67 mins).
Referee: Jérome Garces (France).