10 Oct 2019

RWC: Fiji perform gallant swan song against Wales

11:14 am on 10 October 2019

Fiji have bowed out of the Rugby World Cup with a gallant 29-17 defeat to Wales in Oita, but admit to wondering what could have been after two yellow cards and three forward passes undid a promising start.

The Flying Fijians raced to a 10-0 lead inside the first seven minutes, following tries from Josua Tuisova and Kini Murimurivalu, while Wales were reduced to 14 men when hooker Ken Owens was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle.

Josua Tuisova scores the opening try of the match.

Josua Tuisova scores the opening try of the match. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

But Fiji also fell foul of the officials, with Tevita Cavubati and Semi Kunatani sent to the sin bin for a dangerous cleanout and repeated infringements, allowing the Six Nations champions to respond in kind and take a 14-10 lead into half-time.

Fiji regained the lead from a penalty try 13 minutes into the second spell, moments after Welsh flanker James Davies became the fourth player to be shown a yellow card.

But winger Josh Adams completed his hat-trick on the hour mark and fullback Liam Williams dotted down 12 minutes from time to seal a bonus point win and a quarter final match-up against England or France.

Wales player Josh Adams scores against Fiji.

Josh Adams is now joint top-tryscorer in the World Cup. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Fiji were denied three tries because of a forward pass and coach John McKee admits to pondering what could have been.

"In a game like that it's a game of inches, it's a game of moments and you look at maybe two opportunities there, or maybe a third one, that we lost with forward passes which it costs you big when the game is so close," McKee said.

Kini Murimurivalu scored Fiji's second try.

Kini Murimurivalu scored Fiji's second try. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Hooker Sam Matavesi said it was another case of so close yet so far.

"We're in the game, a bit like (against) Australia, for long periods at a time but I'd say it's that last push, I think that's the difference between Wales going through and us...

We've got a lot to work on but at least we have something to build on, which is good. I thought first and foremost we actually left the tournament in a better place," said Matavesi.

Fiji ended the match with more possession, territory, metres made, defenders beaten and a superior tackle completion rate.

They had a whopping 79 percent of the ball in the first 15 minutes and Matavesi said Fiji needed to be smarter after establishing an early lead.

"And it didn't help that we played half of the first half with 14 men so it's always going to be tough, especially with Wales are so good at squeezing teams and being smart. I think we need to learn that part of the game as well," he said.

Fijian hooker Samuel Matavesi attacks during the first half.

Fijian hooker Samuel Matavesi attacks during the first half. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

McKee said there was only ever one way Fiji intended to approach the game.

"We had to really attack Wales. We knew we wouldn't win an arm wrestle or penalty shootout with them - we had to really back ourselves to score tries and you saw today we didn't take penalty shots, we took scrums or kicked to the corner," McKee said.

"We chanced our arm a little bit and backed our attacking play to see if we could put them under pressure to see how they reacted, and for large parts of that game that worked really well for us."

Despite conceding two early tries, Wales coach Warren Gatland was pleased with the way his players responded.

"We knew Fiji were going to be tough. I thought they were very good in the last 50 minutes or so against Georgia, started really well against Australia and they've got some absolute world class athletes," Gatland said.

"So, for us, it was disappointing to concede a penalty right from the start of the game and they've scored off that so, look I would have taken from 10-0 down to finish with a bonus point win, I thought that showed some great character of this side."

Fiji coach John McKee and Wales coach Warren Gatland shake hands after the final whistle.

Fiji coach John McKee and Wales coach Warren Gatland shake hands after the final whistle. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Welsh captain Alun Wyn Jones says Fiji are always dangerous and came into the game with nothing to lose.

"They started the game with a worldly offload and we hurt ourselves then early on on an early penalty and they got territory and they're difficult to stop,"Jones said.

"But to turn two deficits (around) in both halves and have two yellows and still get a result with four tries was pleasing but by no means was it perfect and there's plenty to work on moving forward, and that's a decent place to be."

Defeat ends Fiji's faint hopes of reaching the quarter finals but they remain in pole position to seal automatic qualification for the next World Cup by finishing third in Pool D, provided Australia beat Georgia and Wales do the same against Uruguay.

John McKee said while Fiji fell short of their goal in Japan they could still be proud of their performances.

"We came here with really high aspirations and really we did want to get to the playoffs was one of our objectives.

"We haven't achieved that, which is disappointing, but having said that the World Cup is a massively competitive environment and it's very difficult to get out of the pool phases for any team and, for me, we can go away from this tournament with our heads held high after our performance today," McKee said.

Fiji wave to the crowd after their final Rugby World Cup pool match against Wales.

Fiji wave to the crowd after their final Rugby World Cup pool match against Wales. Photo: AFP