Jones stripped of captaincy as Gatland vents fury at Fiji draw

Wales 16 Fiji 16
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The Independent Online

Warren Gatland has punished Ryan Jones for last night's "embarrassing" draw against Fiji by handing the captain's armband to Matthew Rees. Jones conceded the decisive penalty to the South Sea Islanders and found himself directlly in the firing line of his furious Welsh coach.

Gatland revealed that Rees, the Scarlets hooker, will resume the onfield leadership against New Zealand next week, regardless of whether Jones is selected. This is a bitter blow for the back-rower – Gatland's captain, when playing, since the Kiwi joined as coach three years go.

So much for revenge against the Flying Finjian who had knocked them out of the World Cup the last time they had played. The ghosts of Nantes were supposed to be exorcised in Cardiff last night. Instead, they swirled around the Millennium Stadium giggling at the absurdity of it all.

Where Wales go from here is anyone's guess, although the dreadful reality is that the All Blacks happen to be next up. Gatland, who has only recently been handed a four-year contract extension, will inevitably face questions about his tenure.

This is the first time in seven years that Wales have gone six matches in a row without a win. And it was not as if the potential for humiliation was not forewarned. Gatland sent them out with the gameplan not to get caught up in a game of sevens with the sevens specialists. Guess what? All that was needed to make this seem like a legitimate sevens was the sunlight and beers.

The rot set in straight from the off. The penalty-takers traded a couple but then the Fiji fly-half Seremi Bai earned himself a spell in the sin-bin after he lifted Aled Brew and drove him into the ground.

Dan Biggar kicked the penalty to put the home side back in front, but far from building on their advantage Wales went hunting for the self-destruct button. Yet another penalty saw Josh Matavesi step up in place of the absent Bai to tie the scores.

However, there were glimpses of what could have been, the teenage wing sensation George North was superbly tackled by Gabi Lovobalavu as he closed in on a third Test try. Then followed the jaw-dropper.

First, Sisa Koyamaibole drove to within inches of the line, and then the centre Albert Vulivuli forced himself over. Silence enveloped the Welsh capital and three-year-old nightmares burst back into the consciousness. The sight of Bai, now back on the field, adding the extras hardly helped.

Gatland was clearly witnessing a video nasty and as early as the 46th minute sent in his ghostbusters. The first-teamers Mike Phillips, Stephen Jones, Tom Shanklin and Bradley Davies were sent on in what will be seen as an act of some desperation.

Their introduction made at least some sort of impact. Some sharp approach work saw Lee Byrne hauled down just short of the line. No matter. Wales turned the screw at the resulting five-metre scrum, winning a free-kick and two penalties in quick succession.

Fiji brought on Graham Dewes, the man who scored the winning try in that World Cup encounter three years ago. Nice try, but it did not work as Garces awarded a penalty try after yet another scrum infringement. Stephen Jones's conversion made it 13-13. There were 20 minutes left and when a Jones penalty sent them clear the jitters began to ease. Prematurely, it proved. The Fijians were looking weary, but it was the Dragonhood who ran out of fire. The visitors somehow found the inspiration and in a torrid finale, the Wales captain Ryan Jones conceded the last-minute penalty. Up stepped Bai and over went the penalty to force the draw they deserved.

Scorers: Wales: Try Penalty; Conversion S Jones; Penalties Biggar 2, S Jones. Fiji: Try Vulivuli; Conversion Bai; Penalties Bai 2, Matavesi.

Wales: Byrne; North, Hook, Bishop (Shanklin 9), Brew; Biggar (S Jones 46), R Rees (Phillips 46); James, Bennett, A Jones, Gough (Davies 46), D. Jones, R Jones (capt), Lydiate, Thomas.

Fiji: Matavesi; Tagicakibau (Ratu 49), Vulivuli (T Rawaqa 67), Lovobalavu, Goneva; Bai, Kentale (Taka 55); Ma'afu (Dewes 59), Veikoso (Tuapati 51), Manu (capt), I Rawaqa, Qovu, Saukawa, Ravulo (Kalou 75) Koyamaibole (Qera 49).

Referee: J Garces (France).