Saturday, September 29, 2007

Fantastic Fiji!

Another do-or-die fixture for the home nations. Gareth Thomas [right] was taking the field for his 100th cap for Wales. Fiji were out to spoil his party.

Wales had an opportunity after less than 2 minutes, but Shane Williams was brought up just short. Then they won a penalty and Stephen Jones popped over the three points for the lead. Wales just missed another opportunity for a try at 10 minutes, which was saved by Fijian Winger Vilimoni Delasau just behind the try line.

Fiji made a great try for Flanker Akapusi Qera after several phases of play worked themselves upfield. Nicky Little added the extras for a 7-3 lead. A matter of minutes later, Fiji set themselves up for another score when Delasau chipped ahead, took the bounce high with one hand and grounded it for a fabulous try, to take them 12-3 up. Wales were in more trouble two minutes later when Little scored a great penalty from close to the half way line. And again, a few minutes after that, this time slightly closer to the goal! Wales were in trouble on the wrong end of an 18-3 scoreline.

Just to put another nail in the coffin, Fiji broke again, from their own half. After a couple of rucks and passing across the field, and Lock Kele Leawere went over in the corner. Little's boot did the honours and put them 25-3 up!

Wales at last got some possession in the Fijian half, winning two penalties. They failed to take the points but instead opted for a scrum and lineout. Despite their best efforts, Fiji managed to defend. Wales had a couple of strong scrums, but again the points failed to materialise. Eventually after another scrum in front of the posts, the forwards managed to rumble away, up to 1m from the line. But it wasn't coming out of the ruck, so another scrum was set. Finally, Alix Popham [left] grounded it from the back of the driving maul. James Hook added the conversion to inch the Welsh back to 25-10 behind. A vital score in the dying minutes of the half.

Qera was sent to the bin just before the break, giving Wales the chance of some scores early in the second half against 14 men. Fiji initially took their chances and camped in the Welsh half for the first thrre or four minutes. Then Wales broke away, Shane Williams running in a fantasic try, sidestepping two takles and diving theatrically under the posts. Jones converted. They got themselves back into the game with another try from centurian cap Gareth Thomas, sneaking over in the corner. It was becoming a nailbiter, even for neutrals like me! Fiji were only leading by 3 points, at 25-22.

Qera was back on the field, but Wales hit back again with a lineout move, swinging it all the way across the field for Winger Mark Jones [right] to cross the line. Stephen Jones added the extras ans Wales were in the lead 25-29 for the first time.

The see-sawing of dominance continued, with Nicky Little slotting two penalties and missing a third in the space of ten minutes. Fiji were leading again 31-29.

There followed a non-scoring 15 minutes or so, despite plenty of action and endeavour from both sides. Fiji nearly had another try from Seremaia Bai, but he was dragged into touch by Gareth Thomas just before touching the ball down.

The deadlock was finally broken by Martyn Williams' [left] fantastic run for an interception try in the 73rd minute. Despite failing to convert, Wales must have thought they had done enough to save their bacon with a 31-34 lead.

But there was still a sting in the Fijian's tail when Prop Graham Dewes took his chance and five points from an amazing passage of play. Fiji kept up the pressure and eventually they were rewarded when the TMO agreed the grounding was good. When Nicky Little added the conversion in the 78th minute, Welsh hearts must have felt like lead. And when Referee Dickinson blew for full time, Fijian hearts must have been soaring.

What a contest! Quite simply, a brilliant game. The only down side for Fiji was the injury to Nicky Little in the very last minute of the game. Wales could not believe it. They are on the plane home, Fiji heading for a quarterfinal with South Africa next weekend. And it would seem that their coach Gareth Jenkins can't now survive in his tenure.

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