“We can go away with our heads held high after our performance today,” Fiji coach John McKee said. “It’s pleasing for me that we’ve finally had an opportunity on the world stage to show what this team’s capable of.”
Fiji pushed Wales hard.
Wales left winger Josh Adams scored a hat trick of tries — and had another ruled out — but only five points separated the teams with about 10 minutes left. Then fullback Liam Williams gave Wales breathing space with a converted try. Center Jonathan Davies created it with a brilliant backhand offload.
Earlier in the second half, his younger brother James Davies got sin-binned on his World Cup debut at flanker.
It a chaotic first half, referee Jerome Garces referred five of the seven tries to video review. Three were ruled out — two by Wales, one by Fiji.
Another try, scored by Fiji No. 8 Viliame Mata late in the half, didn’t need the TMO because the forward pass to him was so evident.
Adams crossed three times in the first half, but one got chalked off. So was a try by Wales flanker Josh Navidi disallowed.
The two Fiji first-half tries that counted went to right winger Josua Tuisova and fullback Kini Murimurivalu inside eight minutes, by which time Fiji scrumhalf Frank Lomani had one ruled out by TMO after a forward pass from left winger Semi Radradra.
“It’s a game of inches, a game of moments,” McKee said. “Opportunities you lose (with) forward passes, they cost you big.”
Added to that, there were three first-half sinbins: Two for Fiji, after Wales hooker Ken Owens got his early on for dangerously launching Mata over his shoulder.
The restart saw the TMO used yet again, this time denying Radradra a try in the left corner because of a forward pass from Murimurivalu.
Mindful of needing four tries and a bonus point, Fiji stormed forward again and, after Wales flanker James Davies got the game’s fourth yellow card, Fiji took a lineout and speared Wales with a huge driving maul for a penalty try.
“We really had to attack Wales, back ourselves to score tries,” McKee said. “We didn’t take penalty shots, we took scrums and we backed ourselves. For large parts of the game that went well for us.”
Wales flyhalf Dan Biggar, who converted his side’s first-half tries, went off for a head injury assessment during the new half. He also went off for an HIA during the 29-25 win against Australia, and was recently cleared to play this match.
His replacement, Rhys Patchell, booted over a long penalty to level the match with about 20 minutes remaining.
Ten minutes later, the elder Davies launched Adams into the left corner.
Try, Mister Garces?
Yes, but only after another TMO review confirmed Adams was in bounds.
When Williams ran clear, the red-shirted Welsh hordes could finally roar with relief.
The first Fiji try came only three minutes in.
Lomani fed Tuisova and he broke three tackles, with the MO showing he just got the ball down in the right corner.
Wales had a try ruled out three minutes later, when center Hadleigh Parkes was adjudged to have knocked on when robbing Murimurivalu in the buildup before Navidi galloped clear.
Then Fiji had one chalked off one minute later, and then Owens got sinbinned.
The 33,000 fans at Oita Stadium were getting their money’s worth.
Defending against a Fiji side in this mood with 15 players is hard enough, so with 14 it’s another level of torment.
Fiji punished Wales immediately, gliding swiftly from left to right as Radradra fed Murimurivalu a looping pass in the right corner.
No TMO this time, Garces instantly raised his hand. But flyhalf Ben Volavola missed another conversion.
Fiji’s attacking brilliance comes with large doses of indiscipline, however. Lock Tevita Cavubati got carelessly sin-binned for diving into the ruck with his shoulder, and Biggar set up Adams in the left corner with a kick over the defense for a converted score in the 17th.
Following sustained pressure, scrumhalf Gareth Davies fed Adams and he found the left corner in the 27th. TMO ruled that Adams’ foot was out of touch, so no try.
But, after Fiji flanker Semi Kunatani was sin-binned, Adams finished off a slick four-man passing move and Biggar converted for 14-10.
A man down, yet Fiji still finished the half on top.
Exhausted by their own relentless running, they were worn out when Wales eventually stepped up a gear after the break.
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