There are games where you’d struggle to fill a highlights reel and then there is Wales v Fiji. Six tries, four disallowed tries, four yellow cards, six players leaving the field through injury and a human wrecking ball by the name of Semi Radradra was enough incident to leave the most rapacious of rugby fans sated and there will be a hint of sadness that the Fijians have left the World Cup party.
Wales, for their part, will be left to piece back together their rib-cages after a game of quite frightening ferocity safe in the knowledge that they’ve rode a storm made in the Pacific Islands.
Warren Gatland can plan for a quarter-final showdown with an insurgent French squad, while Typhoon Hagibis wreaks havoc.
Wales have mastered the bob and weave
Muhammad Ali was the master at the rope-a-dope. Seemingly looking like he was one punch on the snozzle away from waving the white flag, he’d administer the knock-out blow. It felt like that for Wales when Liam Williams cantered in under the posts on 68 minutes.
From struggling to close-out games for a decade, in the last 18 months, Wales have grasped that uncanny knack of playing imperfectly yet closing a game out.
This hasn’t happened by coincidence.
After summoning the spirit of Rorke’s drift against the Wallabies, against France in the Six Nations they started off sluggishly, going 16-0 down in the rain of Paris, finished strongly against England after chasing the game, and held out against a Scotland side unleashing hell and damnation at Murrayfield, yet had enough composure and wherewithal to see it out. With 17 wins in 20 Tests, it’s a habit they don’t want to lose, especially when playing knockout rugby.
Fiji put pressure on Wales like no other side
Fiji’s power, ability to offload in the tackle and propensity for unstructured play made them an almost unique opponent for Wales. The last time they were rattled like that was the 2016 tour of New Zealand when they were just unable to live with the All Blacks’ speed of thought and deed.
Against Fiji, it forced them to make numerous poor decisions; Gareth Davies ran up a blind alley, Dan Biggar fizzed a pass Alun Wyn Jones clearly wasn’t expecting and as a collective, they kicked imprecisely; to the backfield allowing Josua Tuisova, Semi Radradra and Kini Murimurivalu too much space and with their aerial bombs, which they failed to collect.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 9, 2019
It made Wales doubt themselves for periods of the game. Worst of all, however, they missed 31 tackles, as they were bumped off, swatted and stepped. The upside for Wales is that no other side plays rugby like the Fijians. That will be a great source of relief.
Wales’ set-piece continues to improve…
Wales’ pack was on the wobbly side during the pre-World Cup warm-ups with scrum penalties going against them at an alarming regularity against England and Ireland. For that reason, they struggled to gain a foothold in games the sight of Welsh props peeling away in dismay became a disconcerting trait. The selection of Wyn Jones has been a masterstroke.
With Tomas Francis on port and Jones on starboard, the set-piece is rock-solid and gives Wales a platform to gain front-foot ball to attack the opposition. It sounds obvious but without it, Wales would be struggling. Twelve tries in three Tests is the by-product of improved stability.
Countless times yesterday, Wales were able to hold the Fiji pack at bay which allowed for Ross Moriarty to enjoy his best game in a Welsh shirt for some time. Fiji gained some parity late on but the Welsh coal-face had done its job.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again…
This may have first been uttered by Robert the Bruce before Bannockburn but it could easily have been attributed to Josh Adams’ 65 minutes on the field. The Carmarthen-born wing endured a torrid first nine minutes when he was left for roadkill in the path of Josua Tuisova, as ‘the bus’ took him Dan Biggar and Josh Navidi for a ride before dotting down. Minutes later, Adams was skittled by Kini Murimurivalu to clatter over the whitewash for Fiji’s second try.
One Fijian legend was upset by the Ken Owens' tackle in Oita, hinting double standards exist when it comes to tier one versus tier two refereeing at the World Cuphttps://t.co/QJxaqWbNUx
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 9, 2019
Adams spilt a pass, and was harried and bundled into touch in a nightmare start but to his immense credit, he didn’t hide and he crossed the line at the other end on five occasions, with a hat-trick of tries and two disallowed touchline tries. It was the epitome of ‘a roller-coaster’ game.
His L-plates on the international stage are still attached and his naivety will no doubt be ironed out but he will emerge from this tournament a better player. You have to remember, he’s only 24 and with eight tries from 17 appearances, Warren Gatland name checked him as the find of the year.
Alun Wyn Jones to be made honorary Professor of Cunning from Swansea University
You have to doff your cap to Alun Wyn Jones, not only is a made of the toughest metal known to man, but after 140 internationals, this saltiest of sea dogs is as wily as they come, using the full repertoire of skills to slow up the game to Wales’ advantage.
Countless times, he’d be the last man up from the breakdown. Of course, after smashing rucks, aggressive maul defence and the small matter of clattering Fijians to the ground, you’d forgive the veteran for taking his time but on countless occasions he’d stop to discuss the finer points of the rule book with Jerome Garces, thus buying his side much-needed breathing space to recover before the next onslaught. It’s the minor details, but Jones continues to amaze in his 35th year.
Semi Radradra unleashed shock and awe on both sides of the ball
By and large, international Test players are a rare breed who would make mere mortals shrink into a ball of inferiority when drawn into comparison. When you look at Semi Radradra, he has a similar effect on regular Test players.
He carried a remarkable 316m in his final two games, which for the uninitiated is off the scale. A rugby league convert, he’s been nothing short of a sensation. At 6ft 3in and almost 17st, he can run over you, round you, swat you aside with his massive mitts, and if he hasn’t got the ball, he can line you up and chop you in half, as we saw when Liam Williams was folded late on.
His agent will need extra staff to field enquiries about his availability in the coming weeks. Fortunately for Wales they won’t have to face enormous, pacy Fijian wings in the quarter-finals, unless that is you count, ahem, French flair duo Virimi Vakatawa and Alivereti Raka.
Is it time to consider bigger playing squads for France 2023?
The narrative has rightly swung behind player welfare in recent years, so with the increasing demands of Test match rugby, you have to wonder whether it’s time to interrogate World Rugby on the idea of extending the current 31-man squads for subsequent tournaments.
Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams and Dan Biggar all left the field in the second-half through as Fiji gave Wales a physical pummelling and they will be a sixes and sevens selecting a side for the game against Uruguay with specialist positions perilously thin, especially with a four-day turnaround.
There have been countless injuries throughout the tournament to a number of sides, but with the unique demands of the modern game, it must be a consideration to protect the game’s prized assets – the players. Surely it can’t be a financial consideration? In 2015, World Rugby made a £189.5m profit.
Wales v Uruguay
1. Rhys Carre
2. Elliot Dee
3. Dillon Lewis
4. Aaron Shingler
5. Bradley Davies
6. Aaron Wainwright
7. Justin Tipuric (c)
8. Ross Moriarty
9. Tomos Williams
10. Rhys Patchell
11. Hallam Amos
12. Hadleigh Parkes
13. Owen Watkin
14. George North
15. Leigh Halfpenny
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