Wales hold off brave Fiji in helter skelter encounter

Free-spirited Fiji run in stunning try at Millennium Stadium

Wales 23 Fiji 13

Wales missed what may prove an essential bonus point but considering the five-day turnaround, and against this calibre of free spirited opposition, that was always going to be wishful thinking.

They were scrambling all night, as only they can. But Fiji showed once again why they are the truly accursed side at this tournament. England at Twickenham, five days to be ready for the Wallabies, lose their best players in Nemani Nadolo to a harsh suspension and scrumhalf Nikola Matawalu to suspension before Wales in Cardiff.

Three close-run Test matches in 13 days and against tier one nations. The greatest insult is Fiji are not a tier one nation despite continually producing the most naturally gifted players on the planet.


They have given the game so many magical All Black, Wallaby and France wingers.

Some are other worldly. Like Vereniki Goneva, the centre finished the most beautiful, stunning try this tournament has and perhaps will see.

It had been coming. Fiji came with the single minded intention play as only they can. It was wonderful to behold even if they were inaccurate, or more erratic, when early opportunities arose to silence this somewhat subdued 71,576 crowd.

Fiji coach John McKee was offered the cup of complaint afterwards but the Australian declined even a sip.

"The schedule's the schedule," said McKee. "I'm not sure the ramifications of how you can organise the Rugby World Cup. "

So it was down to Sam Warburton of all people to highlight the blatant unfairness of the pool stages.

“We knew with a five-day turnaround it would be one of the toughest Test matches we played in,” said the Wales captain. “You could tell from the celebrations after the England match in Twickenham the changing room was absolutely bouncing. This week it was a completely different feel because the boys were shattered.

“I do really feel for some of the tier two nations that have to go through that turnaround.”

There was a Tipperary element here in John Lacey's refereeing, which frustrated both sides but seemed to hurt Fiji more. He opted not to sin bin the bloodied Bradley Davies for head rolling Netani Talei from a ruck that led to a Welsh try, at least, being disallowed.

Granted, the act was “low on the scale of evil” according to one scribe.

"I thought Jerome Garces was absolutely outstanding," said Warren Gatland of the referee at Twickenham when talking about Lacey, or not talking about Lacey.

Message delivered.

At this juncture Wales already had a 10-3 lead from a cracking try after just six minutes when Gareth Davies dummied and ducked over after Gethin Jenkins nailed Goneva behind his own line (they were trying the unthinkable) and some direct, rapid movement by Toby Faletau.

Dan Biggar's boot was sure and true. This was in stark contrast to the almost as talented Fijian No 10 Ben Volavola.

We also spied another potentially world class flyhalf at play. Matthew Morgan found himself wearing 15 last night after Leigh Halfpenny, then Liam Williams, were laid low in recent weeks. Morgan's a wonderful attacking organism with a natural head-swivelling ability that allows him switch the point of attack with a deft step.

Not a bad joker at all.

Wales knew just how dangerous this outing could prove to be. Everyone remembers 2007. Many can hark back to 1991 and Samoa at the Arms Park.

When Scott Baldwin battered over nine minutes before half-time and Biggar slotted the touchline conversion to make it 17-3, a rugby obsessed country could relax a little.

Not a lot.

Back came Fiji, streaking out of defence with a turnover gifting them what seemed a four man overlap. The Welsh scramble saved them from a mini-crisis at half-time. That and Dan Lydiate’s grinding hit on Volavola.

“Considering the short turnaround we had to dig really deep,” said Gatland. “I thought the players did that really well.”

There is more wounded. Biggar took a knock on the eye socket that will be assessed. Jamie Roberts put his body through a second punishing 80 minutes in five days. During minute 157 he carried in the heavies, knowing full well that Akapusi Qera, Fiji’s bullish captain, and Viliame Veikoso, had been eyeing up his scalp for some time. Roberts looked in some anguish.

But back to Goneva's try. It's due a lone paragraph. It was during that high risk period after half-time that Alex Cuthbert went for an intercept, he got it but lost it in a tackle. Asaeli Tikoirotuma of London Irish galloped out of his 22 and was suddenly free. He found Timoci Nagusa, formerly of Ulster, who weaved on to the Welsh 22. Goneva came late and was perfect.

Volavola converted to make it 17-13 but a Biggar penalty seven minutes later kept Wales two scores clear. Another before the end avoided any late drama.

So job done and on to Twickenham goes this gruelling, enthralling Pool of Death.

“It’s a bit hard for a Kiwi to be jumping up and cheering for the Aussies,” went Gatland. “I’ll be neutral.”

You wonder will he really. A Wallaby win kills England and guarantees them a quarter-final. Perhaps a little cheer for those who dwell across the ditch.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 6 mins: G Davies try, 5-0; D Biggar con, 7-0; 13 mins: B Volavola pen, 7-3; 20 mins: D Biggar pen, 10-3; 31 mins: S Koto try, 15-3; D Biggar con, 17-3; B Volavola pen, 17-6. Half-time. 48 mins: V Goneva try, 17-11; B Volavola con, 17-13.

WALES: M Morgan; A Cuthbert, T Morgan, J Roberts, G North; D Biggar, G Davies; G Jenkins, S Baldwin, T Francis; B Davies, A Jones; D Lydiate, S Warburton, T Faletau.

Replacements: L Williams for Cuthbert (20-25mins), S Lee for Francis (53 mins), K Owens for Baldwin (56 mins), J Tipuric for D Lydiate, (63 mins), L Charteris for B Davies (65 mins), A Jarvis for Jenkins (67 mins), G Hook for M Morgan, R Priestland for Biggar (73 mins),

FIJI: M Talebula; T Nagusa, V Goneva, L Botia, A Tikoirotuma; B Volavola, N Kenatale; C Ma'afu, S Koto Vuli, M Saulo; T Cavubati, L Nakarawa: D Waqaniburotu, A Qera, N Talei.

Replacements: H Seniloli for Kenatale, N Soqeta for Cavubati, M Ravulo for Waqaniburotu (70 mins), J Matavesi for Goneva (71 mins), V Veikoso for Ma'afu (76 mins), K Murimurivalu for Botia, L Atalifo for Saulo (77 mins).

Referee: John Lacey (IRFU).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent