Record rout of Llanelli is timely fillip for Fijians

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The Independent Online

Llanelli 12 Fiji 38

Fiji could scarcely have hoped for better than yesterday's resounding victory at Stradey Park, coming as it did four days before they play Wales and here at one of the great cathedrals of Welsh rugby.

Even so, it was not quite as good as it seemed. This was Llanelli's heaviest defeat by a touring team, worse than the 30-12 by which a superior side subsided against South Africa last year, an unfortunate record which betrayed the Scarlets' untried quality rather than anything especially menacing about a Fijian team of near-Test strength.

Llanelli's weakness was principally by design of the national selectors. They had included five Llanelli players in their choice to face the Fijians - thereby ruling them out of this match - and it was to the Scarlets' relief that Spencer John was permitted to play despite his promotion yesterday to the Wales bench after Lyndon Mustoe, a new cap from Cardiff, had replaced the injured John Davies at prop.

Not that it made any difference. The Llanelli side looked callow and played like it, which would have been excusable but for their unlikely want of ambition.

For all the optimism expressed afterwards by Gareth Jenkins, the coach, the fact that Llanelli were restricted to kicks for their points while Fiji scored five tries tells its own tale.

Somehow the Scarlets ran the tourists close enough to be level at half- time but this was achieved without a single threat to the Fijian line. So when Stephen Pearce opened the scoring with an early penalty it turned out to be utterly misleading.

The penalty was followed by tries for Fiji by Ifereimi Tawake and Rasolosolo Bogisa, the latter converted by Jonetani Waqa, before the Scarlets' most productive spell brought two drop goals by Matthew McCarthy and a second Pearce penalty in the eight minutes before half-time.

And that, as far as Llanelli were concerned, was that. It could have been worse, what with Waqa missing kicks with abandon as he and others have done in each of the half-dozen tour fixtures and the Fijian forwards conceding penalties with equal and familiar liberality.

Hope arrives in Cardiff today in the distinguished form of the former Wigan points-machine and All Black Frano Botica, who will seek to show the wayward Waqa how to do it. If he cannot kick his penalties on Saturday, Fiji can rest assured that Neil Jenkins will.

On this occasion, though, the miskicking mattered little. Further tries came from Manasa Bari, who had two, and Lawrence Little before Waqa rounded off the scoring with a drop goal and his second penalty, by which time place-kicking practice had become a stronger imperative than the running rugby which carries the Fijian trademark.

Llanelli: Penalties Pearce 2; Drop goals McCarthy 2. Fiji: Tries Bari 2, Tawake, Bogisa, Little; Conversions Waqa 2; Penalties Waqa 2; Drop goal Waqa.

Llanelli: S Pearce; D Evans, N Boobyer, M Wintle, G Evans; M McCarthy, H Harries (R Moon, 49); H Williams-Jones, R McBryde (capt; J Hyatt, 67), S John, L Williams, P Jones, O Lloyd, P Morris, G Jones.

FIJI: R Bogisa (Nadi); P Bale (Canterbury), S Sorovaki (Wellington), L Little (King Country), M Bari (Tavua); J Waqa (Nadroga), J Rauluni (Eastern Districts); J Veitayaki (King Country, capt), G Smith (Waikato), E Natuivau (Suva), E Katalau (Poverty Bay), A Nadolo (Suva), I Tawake (Nadroga), D Rouse (Nadi), W Masirewa (Counties).

Referee: S Lander (Irby, Wirral).