Wales (18) 32
Tries: Adams, North, Rees-Zammit, Dee Cons: Biggar (3) Pens: Biggar
Fiji (14) 26
Tries: Nayacalevu, Tagitagivalu, Tuisova, Koveskalou Cons: Lomani (2), Tela
After a frantic first half which saw both sides show creative brilliance but also frailties in their defense, Wales took a slender four-point lead into the break.
Scores from Josh Adams and George North sandwiched between quickfire tries from captain Waisea Nayacalevu and flanker Lekima Tagitagivalu leaving the match on a knife edge.
Wales improved after the break defensively and clinically punished Fiji with further tries from Louis Rees-Zammit and Elliot Dee, before Joshua Tuisova and Ravoi Kovekalou scored late consolations for the Pacific Islanders.
It would be a nerve-jangling end for the Welsh but would be a hard-fought win for head-coach Warren Gatland and a satisfactory bonus point start to the competition.
The opening weekend of the competition had already been captivating with shocks and incident and this would be no different. Hosts France’s eye-catching victory over New Zealand on Friday night setting the tone that this World Cup will be unpredictable and hard-fought in the sweltering late-summer heat.
Cue the potential banana skin for Wales in the shape of Pacific Island powerhouse Fiji fresh from a 30-22 victory over England just a fortnight ago. A familiar foe at the World Cup for Gatland’s side having locked horns in the competition in the previous five editions.
Kiwi, Gatland though would be all too aware of the talents and physical presence of a side that ended Wales’ tournament participation at the pool stage 16 years ago with a dramatic 38-34 win.
His Welsh side coming into the World Cup this time would be at a 20-year ranking low of 10 in the World off the back of a disastrous record of 26 defeats since the last World Cup. Whilst since a breathtaking surprise victory over World Champions South Africa last July there have been just three victories, a stark contrast to their opponents.
Simon Raiwalui’s young Fijan side, ranked seven in the latest rankings would be no pushover having shown breathtaking form to win topple England at Twickenham and take France to the limit in Paris in a run of five wins in their last six tests.
It would be the Welsh though who would start the brighter of the two sides with Will Rowlands winning an early penalty from the breakdown. Fly-half Biggar settling the early nerves with the three points.
Minutes later Wales would be in the ascendancy. Hat-trick hero of the same fixture four years ago Josh Adams opening his account for the tournament. A sweeping move from North in the midfield would be recycled and spread wide for wing Adams to go over in the corner for the opening Welsh try.
The Pacific Islands though would reduce the Welsh lead minutes later with a score of their own. Captain Nayacalevu muscling through two challenges on the twenty-two line to sprint clear through the Welsh defense to silence the crowd.
In a breathless period, Fiji would open up the Welsh defense once more with a flowing move to score their second try. Flanker Tagitagivalu the recipient of a darting run from wing Radradra before breezing through into an alarming amount of space to stun a shell-shocked Welsh team.
Wales would look to gain territory and slow the game after the mid-half drinks break. Biggar keeping the scoreboard ticking over punishing an infringement from just inside the opposition half.
Patience would be key as the Welsh would look to exploit an inexperienced Fijian side. A spell of possession forcing an error in the Pacific Islander’s defense. Wales would reject a kick at goal opting to go for more with a kick to the corner and would reap the rewards.
The experienced North breaking free in the second phase of play from a quick Tomkins offload to score his 46 test try for his country. Biggar converting the extras to put the Welsh back ahead.
The pendulum would seemingly again swing back to Fiji. Eroni Mawi crossing over the Welsh line, but after TMO intervention the Saracens Prop would be adjudged to have not grounded his charging effort under the Welsh posts. A let off for the Welsh.
Wales would start brighter in the second period and would further extend their lead. Rees-Zammit picking up a loose ball to go over in the right-hand corner after Jac Morgan had found the Gloucester wing with a cross-field pass looking to spread the play.
There would be again a strong response from the Fijian’s who would camp close to the Welsh try line pushing for a score. Unlike the first period, however, there would be a stronger defensive showing from the Welsh. Adams epitomising the desire of the team flawing opposite number Selestino Ravutaumada with a powerful tackle to wild celebrations amongst his teammates.
With Fiji losing Tagitagivalu to the sin bin seemingly their challenge all but ended as Wales would assert their authority on the scoreline. Dee driving over from close-range to all but seal the victory.
Wales would also be reduced to 14 with Corey Domachowski also falling foul of the referee as Fiji pulled back a late fight-back with consolations from Tuisova and Kovekalou.
It would be too little too late as Wales would hang on to seal a hard-fought win in a nerve-jangling finale.
Wales XV: L Williams, Rees-Zammit, North, Tompkins, Adams, Biggar (Costelow 66), G Davies, G Thomas (Domachowski 63), Elias (Dee 52), Francis (Lewis 63), Rowlands, Beard (Jenkins 58), Wainwright (Thomas 69), Morgan (captain), Faletau (Reffell 58).
Fiji XV: Droasese (Maqala 74), Ravutaumada, Nayacalevu (captain), Radrada, Habosi (Tuisova 52), Tela, Lomani (Kuruvoli 52), Mawi (Kovekalou 56), Matavesi (Ikanivere 66), Tagi (Doge 67), Nasilasila, Ahiwaru, Cirikidaveta, Tuisue (Botia 58), Tagitagivalu, Mata.
(Lead image: Welsh Rugby Union)
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