Wales fend off flamboyant Fiji

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The Independent Online
Wales 19

Fiji 15

THERE is precious little room for more nails in the Welsh coffin, but the Fijian tourists came perilously close to hammering in yet another. There is still no real composure or direction in this Welsh side, and although individually they tried manfully to break through in the early stages, and tackled well when Fiji came back into the game, it was the visitors who stole the show by insisting on taking risks in the prolonged drizzle as they passed the ball and searched for gaps.

Given a firmer ground to run on, they might well have done more than simply match Wales in tries. But for their now notorious failure in place- kicking they would have pushed Wales harder for the verdict. As it was they came within four points of a nation they have never managed to beat in seven meetings.

A grey and greasy afternoon, with the floodlights on the top of the stands turned on even before the match had started at three o'clock, was taken to be a good omen by the Welsh who kicked off contentedly into the rain. Indeed they almost caught Fiji before they could settle, when Neil Jenkins put in a speculative little kick for Ieuan Evans to run on to in the Fiji 22. Evans, winning his Welsh record 56th cap, had the celebratory present snatched away by good tackling. But in the next few moments, Jenkins came close with a penalty kick and even closer with a try, disallowed for some hidden infringement after he had crossed the line.

Wales did move ahead when the scrum-half Andy Moore broke across from the fringes of a scrum to score a try. And a few minutes later Jenkins bamboozled his way to some revenge. After a late tackle on Wayne Proctor, Wales were awarded a penalty in a highly kickable position. Jenkins went to collect the ball while the lad ran on with the sand, but instead of teeing up the ball, he kicked it up to himself and ran across the goal- line to touch down with the Fijians motionless beneath their posts.

Jenkins must have left at home the little box in which he usually packs his troubles for he missed both conversions. Otherwise he was so occupied in little moves and manoeuvres that he did not show any fear at all that his position might be under pressure from the returning prodigal. But one happening might have pointed to the future. When the centre Nigel Davies went off injured mid-way through the first half, he was replaced by Aled Williams, of Swansea, who took over at stand-off while Jenkins moved out to centre.

No fault of either man, in particular, but now Wales went into one of those negligent phases which seem to come over them when their own lack of finishing skills is denying them the scores to which their general command seems to entitle them. A sloppy bit of fussy close-passing presented the Fijian left-wing with an interception, which he converted with a lone run in to a try from some 30 metres out. Jonetani Waqa, converted and just before half-time added a penalty, so that for all Wales's bright dawn the sides changed ends at 10-all.

Better was to come from Fiji in the second half when their gifted Felipe Rayasi jinked his way through, side-stepping from either foot to score near the posts. Unfortunately for them Waqa had now left the field, and his replacement, Bogisa, made a hash of the simple conversion. Simply by a return to his customary form, Jenkins, with three penalty goals, was able to restore the Welsh lead, though not, in the eyes of most spectators, their reputation. Children in the crowd still rooted for Wales, but their elders, excited by the Fijians' running and passing, were half guiltily willing them to score.

Only a high tackle on Ieuan Evans persuaded them to change sides again. But even after that they responded most warmly to a sequence of Fijian passing movements that came to nothing when a final mis-kick and a final dropped pass negated all that went before. As the rain teemed down, the Fijians ran round the ground to salute the crowd at the end. The Welsh very decently shared their discomfort by waiting outside the tunnel.

Wales: J Thomas (Llanelli); I Evans (Llanelli), G Thomas (Bridgend), N Davies (Llanelli) W Proctor (Llanelli); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), Andy Moore (Cardiff); C Loader (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff, capt), L Mustoe (Cardiff), Andrew Moore (Swansea) D Jones (Cardiff), C Quinnell (Lanelli), M Bennett (Cardiff), H Taylor (Cardiff). Replacement: A Williams (Swansea) for A Davies, 23.

Fiji: F Rayasi (King Country); P Bale (Canterbury), S Sorovaki (Wellington), L Little (King Country), M Bari (Tavua); J Waqa (Nadroga), J Rauluni (Easts); J Veitayaki (King Country, capt), G Smith (Waikato), E Natuivau (Suva), A Nadalo (Suva), E Katalau (Poverty Bay), I Tawake (Nadroga), T Tamanivalu (Brothers), D Rouse (Nadi). Replacement: R Bogisa (Nadi) for Waqa, 43.

Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand).

Clem Thomas, page 31