Rees-Lightning strikes as Wales survive 14-man Fiji in Cardiff thriller
Wales survived a major fright against 14-man Fiji before claiming their first victory of the Autumn Nations Series campaign by winning 38-23 in Cardiff.
Fiji had wing Eroni Sau sent off and two players sin-binned, but Wales found it tough going until wing Alex Cuthbert marked his first Test appearance for four years with a crucial try 13 minutes from time and Louis Rees-Zammit claimed a stunning solo touchdown.
Rees-Zammit’s 60-metre kick, chase and finish showcased his blistering pace, while hooker Ryan Elias touched down twice and there there were also tries for scrum-half Kieran Hardy and full-back Liam Williams, with Dan Biggar and Callum Sheedy each kicking two conversions.
Fiji, though, almost triumphed over adversity after Sau was red-carded for a dangerous tackle after 25 minutes.
But Fiji were ultimately denied a first victory over Wales at the Principality Stadium, and only a second in 13 attempts against the reigning Six Nations champions.
Wasps flanker Thomas Young made his first Wales appearance for more than two years, and wing Cuthbert returned following a four-year international absence, but centre Josh Adams was a late withdrawal and Saracens’ Nick Tompkins started.
Fiji stunned Wales with a try after just four minutes as they struck from their first attack.
The ball was moved at a rapid rate of knots, number eight Viliame Mata delivered a superb pass to skipper Nayacalevu and the centre sprinted over, with Volavola converting.
Wales’ troubles did not end there either, as John was forced off injured – he was replaced by Dillon Lewis – and Volavola kicked a penalty to move Fiji 10-0 ahead.
But the home side then opened their account through an 11th-minute touchdown for Elias as Fiji’s forwards were driven backwards from a lineout before Biggar’s conversion made it 10-7.
PLAYER RATINGS: Wales came through in the end, even if the scoreline flattered the hosts.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 14, 2021
John failed a head injury assessment, meaning Lewis became a permanent replacement, but Fiji soon encountered major problems as Sau was sent off by referee Nic Berry following a swinging arm hit to Wales centre Johnny Williams’ head.
Berry had a lengthy discussion with television match official Stuart Terheege, having initially looked at issuing a yellow card, but a red was unquestionably the correct decision.
Wales exerted relentless pressure as the interval approached and Fiji were reduced to 13 players when flanker Albert Tuisue was sin-binned for a technical infringement.
And the home side pounced from close range, with Hardy darting over for a try that Biggar converted.
Wales thought they had added a third try on the stroke of half-time after Rees-Zammit caught Biggar’s kick and sprinted clear, but the ball had drifted over the touchline during build-up play and the score was disallowed, meaning Wales had a 14-13 lead at the break.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, though, Fiji regained the lead three minutes into the second period when Volavola kicked a 45-metre penalty.
Wales coach Wayne Pivac began to make changes, sending on Ospreys prop Gareth Thomas and Cardiff scrum-half Tomos Williams, before Volavola should have extended Fiji’s lead, but he drifted a penalty attempt wide.
But the visitors did not have to wait much longer for a second try as a brilliant move from deep inside their own half was finished by Nayacalevu and Volavola’s successful touchline conversion made it 23-14.
Wales, though, staged a grandstand finish with tries for Elias, Cuthbert, Rees-Zammit and Williams during a devastating 17-minute spell, and Fiji’s outstanding effort ultimately proved fruitless during an outstanding contest.
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