Wales overcome 14-man Fiji with flattering 38-23 win
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Wales avoided embarrassment from 14-man Fiji in laboring to a flattering 38-23 win at Principality Stadium on Sunday.
Fiji wing Eroni Sau was red-carded in the 25th minute while his team was leading, and Fiji played 20 more minutes with 13 men, but Wales couldn’t grab the lead for good until the 67th minute.
Even then, the 24-23 go-ahead try came from a Fiji error — a missed lineout catch — and ended up being dotted down in the corner by Alex Cuthbert, playing his first test in more than four years.
Another Fiji error, a loose pass on Wales’ 22, ended up with the other wing, Louis Rees-Zammit, chipping from halfway and beating the cover to the ball at the back of the in-goal for 31-23.
The brilliant and tenacious Fijians never gave up and were held up over the line, but another error was returned to the tryline in overtime by Liam Williams, making his first start since an appendectomy.
Wales ended a four-test winless run, all at home, and coach Wayne Pivac, a former Fiji coach, appreciated their fortune.
“It was everything you’d expect from a Wales vs. Fiji game. We made it hard for ourselves,” Pivac said. “Fiji can score points with 13 or 14 men. They’re in our pool at the (2023) World Cup, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Wales, with the forward pack which faced South Africa last weekend and guided by Dan Biggar, was disrupted by the late withdrawals of prop Tomas Francis (concussion) and center Josh Adams (leg), and struggled in the breakdowns and making any headway through the backline. They elected not to take any penalty goalkicks and the forwards set up their first three tries.
But until the last minutes, Fiji provided the entertainment with 13 or 14 men and will rue blowing a great chance at a first ever win in Cardiff.
Pivac said Wales didn’t handle red cards in the last Six Nations well, either, and they need to address it.
“It’s a mental thing,” he said. “If you relax at this level, you keep teams in for longer than they need to be.”
When Sau was sent off, Fiji deserved to be leading 13-7 and had Wales clearly rattled.
Fiji had a try after only four minutes when No. 8 Viliame Mata ran a great cutback into a gap off a short pass from Ben Volavola and offloaded to captain Waisea Nayacalevu.
Volavola converted and added two penalties as Fiji took its chances.
With the Welsh backs blocked out, the forwards took it upon themselves to score their first try from a lineout maul, claimed by hooker Ryan Elias.
Sau had Wales midfielder Johnny Williams down near touch and didn’t need to do anymore, but he then deliberately struck his head and changed the complexion of the match. Fiji became vulnerable, and Wales less so.
“We went into the game knowing we had to create intensity,” Fiji interim coach Gareth Baber said. “We did that well. We hassled them and didn’t let them play the way they wanted to.
“But you hand it back when you get a card.”
Wales turned the heat on up front, and repeated offsides by Fiji saw flanker Albert Tuisue sin-binned in the 37th.
Wales exploited Fiji’s six-man scrum to get scrumhalf Kieran Hardy over. Biggar converted and they led into halftime 14-13.
But Fiji scored first again in the new half, Volavola’s third penalty regaining the lead with 13 men. He missed another penalty to extend it after Tuisue returned, but then converted a second great try by Nayacalevu.
A wipers kick by Biggar was marked by Fiji fullback Setareki Tuicuvu, and Wales paused. But Tuicuvu saw acres of grass, tapped to himself, and blasted upfield. Olympic sevens gold medalist Vilimoni Botitu was in support and Nayacalevu was suddenly in open space to score.
Fiji led 23-14 but five minutes later they were down to 13 again, committing offsides under pressure. Replacement prop Eroni Mwai was sin-binned.
A second rolling maul try to Elias had Wales trailing 23-19, and Biggar was rested to prepare for Australia next weekend.
Fiji didn’t rest, but inaccuracies cost it in the last 13 minutes, and Wales pounced.
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