Wales 32-26 Fiji: Warren Gatland’s side manage to hold on to win thrilling encounter as they get their World Cup campaign off to impressive start
- Warren Gatland’s Wales managed to overcome Fiji in their World Cup opener
- Wales can take much confidence and momentum from entertaining encounter
- Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results
In 2016, Wales’ football team started their impressive journey to the semi-finals of that year’s European Championship at the Stade de Bordeaux with Gareth Bale scoring.
A 2-1 win over Slovakia laid the platform for one of the country’s most unlikely sporting successes.
Seven years later, Wales’ rugby side and their supporters will leave here with similarly fond memories. But only just.
This victory over an entertaining Fiji side would have caused heart palpitations for anyone with even a passing interest in Welsh rugby. For Warren Gatland, it must have been sheer relief.
What a game this was. It had promised much. And it delivered. Wales’ World Cup campaign is off to a winning start and that is absolutely huge for their confidence and momentum.
Wales commenced their World Cup campaign with an impressive victory against Fiji
Louis Rees-Zammit, who made an important contribution, celebrates at full time
Wales’ Nick Tompkins applauds the fans after his team’s victory over Fiji was confirmed
Gatland’s side deserve huge credit for roughing this out against the wonderful Fijians.
They got five points too.
Wales somehow went to the break 18-14 ahead after a relentless first 40, but their lack of brute force and inability to slow Fiji’s ball down was a serious concern.
For large periods Wales’ travelling fans and those at home would have feared a repeat of the infamous 2007 World Cup defeat by Fiji – one which also took place in France.
Gatland said his team would do ‘something special’ at this World Cup and the William Webb Ellis Cup was on show to both sides before kick-off as means of motivation.
Gatland and Co had the Prince of Wales in their corner here, just a day after his wife Kate Middleton had supported England to victory over Argentina in Marseille.
But this success was all their own work. Boy did it take some doing.
Unlike four years ago – when their then attack coach Rob Howley was sent home from the World Cup in Japan on the eve of the first game – Wales went into this tournament on the back of a seamless build-up. After months of off-field misery and contractual and financial uncertainty, Gatland’s men had hoped they had navigated the choppy waters.
Dan Biggar scores a penalty during the first half of Wales’ victory in Bordeaux
Fiji’s Waisea Nayacalevu dives to score a try during the first half of an enthralling encounter
Wales’ George North is tackled by Fiji’s Luke Tagiduring in an intense battle
Tries: Adams 7, North 29, Rees-Zammit 48, Dee 66Cons: Biggar 29, 49, 67Pens: Biggar 2, 24
Tries: Nayacalevu 13, Tagitagivalu 17, Tuisova 73, Doge 78Cons: Lomani 15, 18, Tele 73
Wales: L Williams; Rees-Zammit, North, Tompkins, Adams (Dyer 59); Biggar (Costelow 68), Davies (T Williams 38-41 and 52); Thomas (Domachowski 63), Elias (Dee 53), Francis (Lewis 63), Rowlands, Beard (Jenkins 59), Wainwright (Thomas 70), Morgan (capt), Faletau (Reffell 59)
Fiji: Droasese (Maqala 75); Ravutaumada, Nayacalevu (capt), Radrada, Habosi (Tuisova 52); Tela, Lomani (Kuruvoli 52); Mawi (Ravai 57), Matavesi (Ikanivere 67), Tagi (Doge 67), Nasilasila, Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta (Mayanavanua 71), Tuisue (Botia 59), Tagitagivalu, Mata
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Star man: Nick Tompkins (Wales)
Then, Fiji loomed ominously on the horizon.
Fresh from defeating England at Twickenham last month, the Pacific Islanders arrived in sweltering Bordeaux full of confidence but without their first-choice fly-half Caleb Muntz.
A knee injury ruled Fiji’s talented young playmaker out of this tournament. Teti Tela – who is not in Muntz’s class – started instead. It meant advantage Wales before a ball was touched.
Tela’s initial attempt to kick-off was slightly delayed by a television busybody, much to the frustration of a sea of red inside the stadium. Wales’ start was impressive.
In humid conditions, Adam Beard took the kick-off. Will Rowlands won a breakdown penalty. Dan Biggar nailed the kick.
Wales repelled early Fiji pressure. George North made a clear line break. From the field position, the ball went left and Liam Williams’ excellent pass sent Josh Adams to the line.
Williams punched the air. Biggar couldn’t convert.
Tela’s attempt to put Fiji on the board after Wales overplayed in their own half was appalling, but he was bailed out by his barnstorming captain Waisea Nayacalevu.
The Fiji centre powered his way to the line. Fiji soon had a second.
‘Fiji, Fiji,’ rang out after the Pacific Islanders scored straight from first phase, Semi Radradra among those to run amok amid some poor Welsh defence. Lekima
applied the finishing touch. Frank Lomani added both kicks having clearly seen enough of Tela.
Wales needed to score next and they did, Biggar nailing a kick. The fly-half then twice opted for the corner instead of three points and got his rewards as North scored under the posts.
Despite excellent effort, Fiji’s players were left disappointed at the end of the game
It was harum-scarum stuff and probably too open for Wales’ liking. Fiji tacklers melted red shirts on a regular basis. Eroni Mawi had what would have been a third Fiji try ruled out as he dived for the line. Gareth Davies was then tackled high and forced off for a head injury assessment as Wales escaped without conceding further.
Biggar’s extraordinary scalding of North and Nick Tompkins for not kicking the ball out with the clock dead summed up the edgy nature of Wales’ state of mind.
Davies was back on for the start of the second half. Wales simply had to find a way of slowing down Fiji’s dominant carriers and speed of ball at the breakdown.
Biggar couldn’t extend their lead, missing a penalty. Then came a crucial moment. Tompkins — who had arguably his best game for Wales — was standing up to be counted.
Adams danced down the wing. And then out of nowhere, rookie captain Jac Morgan picked up and cross-kicked to Louis Rees-Zammit. The result was predictable.
Adams followed up his brilliant attacking work with a monster defensive hit and jackal. Biggar was struggling, but he battled on gamely.
Wales introduced breakdown specialist Tommy Reffell for Taulupe Faletau just before the hour and Aaron Wainwright switched to No 8. Fiji’s jackal threat Levani Botia also appeared.
Both sides unloaded their bench. It had to be done. The ferocity and pace of the game was simply frightening. For those of a neutral persuasion it was a joy to watch.
Wales conceded a string of penalties on their own line. They escaped with a warning from Matthew Carley when a yellow card felt inevitable and somehow earned a goal-line drop out.
Carley then decided to annoy Fiji’s fans even more.
Fiji’s Ilaisa Droasese (C) is tackled by Wales’ Nick Tompkins (R) and George North (L)
After failing to show Wales a card, he promptly handed one to Tagitagivalu and Elliot Dee was immediately driven over for Gatland’s side’s bonus-point try.
Carley’s decision to sin bin Tagitagivalu was beyond harsh.
Biggar converted and then limped off to be replaced by Sam Costelow before Wales prop Corey Domachowski’s yellow evened up the numbers.
Josua Tuisova grabbed Fiji’s third as Wales came under heavy pressure late on.
Peni Ravai did ensure Fiji left with a four-try bonus point. But Wales just about hung on with North pressed into an emergency flanker role and if Radradra had not spilled the ball at the death with the line gaping, Fiji would have won.
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