Wednesday , October 18 2017

Wales battle to Fiji victory at WCup; Pressure on Aussies, England; All Blacks wary of gargantuan Georgian

Fiji’s Leone Nakarawa is tackled by Wales’ George North during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Wales and Fiji at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, on Oct 1. (AP)
Fiji’s Leone Nakarawa is tackled by Wales’ George North during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Wales and Fiji at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, on Oct 1. (AP)

CARDIFF, United Kingdom, Oct 1, (Agencies): Gareth Davies guided Wales to a nail-biting 23-13 victory over Fiji on Thursday to pile the pressure on Pool A rivals Australia and England. Even though there was no bonus, the win was the third for Warren Gatland’s Welsh team after having beaten Uruguay 54-9 and England 28-25.

It left them on top of the “Pool of Death” on 13 points ahead of Australia (9) and England (6). Wales will be guaranteed one of the two qualifying spots for the quarter-finals along with Australia if the Wallabies beat England on Saturday.

But Fiji made it so hard for Wales at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, the home side failing to convert overwhelming first-half domination of territory and possession into points.

The Pacific islanders rallied impressively at scrum-time and in the loose, capitalising on very poor out-of-hand kicking by Wales. “That was so tough,” said Wales captain Sam Warburton. “The first half, I was knackered.” “But we have got three wins out of three. If someone had told us that at the start of the campaign we would have been quite happy.” Wales scored two first-half tries through Davies and Scott Baldwin, fly-half Dan Biggar kicking two conversions and three penalties.

Ben Volavola kicked two penalties for Fiji after Wales scrum infringements and despite losing influential scrum-half Nikola Matawalu to injury and giant goal-kicking winger Nemani Nadolo to a ban, crossed for one try through Vereniki Goneva.

There was an electric start to the game, the Welsh camping out in the Fijian 22 metre area and both sides playing harumscarum rugby to the delight of the 71,000 crowd. The pressure paid off for Wales as scrum-half Davies dummied past Fiji captain Akapusi Qera to dart over from close range. Biggar, who kicked 23 points in Wales’ thrilling win over England, made no mistake with the conversion.

There were still concerns over Wales’ scrum, penalised after an impressive Fijian shunt saw them retreating fast. Volavola kicked the penalty, but missed a second effort. Biggar took Wales out to 10-3 with his first penalty as Morgan then skipped past a clutch of defenders only for Davies to ignore a simple two-on-one with the line beckoning. Just after the half-hour mark, Baldwin crossed for Wales’ second after Tyler Morgan drove for the line, Biggar kicking the extras. Fiji remained potent on the break, however, a loose pass by Gethin Jenkins seized upon and sent wide to Asaeli Tikoirotuma who accelerated away, the attack snuffed out in desperate fashion. Volavola, signed by the Crusaders as a replacement for departing All Blacks playmaker Dan Carter, hit his second three-pointer after the Welsh front row collapsed at a scrum on their own ball. But the fly-half fluffed a penalty seven minutes into the second period as Fiji pressed a ragged Welsh defence.

A minute later Alex Cuthbert almost intercepted but Fiji countered, the fleetfooted Tikoirotuma breaking through some sloppy tackles in midfield, Leicester centre Goneva on hand to ride a double tackle by Davies and Cuthbert to cross the whitewash in a cauldron-like atmosphere in the Welsh capital. Volavola hit the conversion, Biggar responding with a penalty to take Wales’ lead out to seven points. A poor Davies box kick was quickly recycled by Fiji, rampaging locks Leone Nakarawa and Tevita Cavubati linking well to take the game deep into Welsh territory. Wales countered and Biggar settled home nerves with his third penalty to ensure there was no repeat of Fiji’s sole defeat of Wales in 2007, which condemned the Welsh to an early exit from that World Cup.

Georgia may be an unknown quantity for the All Blacks but they are certainly aware of “Gorgodzilla”, their uncompromising captain Mamuka Gorgodze. Richie McCaw said 99 percent of the All Blacks preparation for Friday’s Pool C clash at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff has been on getting their own game right.

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