FIRST AND foremost this was an exceptional performance by Fiji. We all know they have exciting backs, who can run from anyway but this generation of the Fiji national side is growing a hard edge that Wales simply failed to match. It was the Sevens-style Fiji that beat Wales but one based around their forward power.
Wales had the ascendancy in the scrum (well as Jonathan Davies said being a Fiji prop is like being the Brazilian goalkeeper in football – no on wants to go there) but at the breakdown and in the tackle area Fiji were dominant. So there should be no complaints from Wales as Fiji more that justified the draw.
The IRB should be commended for this performance. They weren’t out there playing but the game shows that giving Tier Two nations more regular action in terms of the development tournaments they are staging across the world is having an effect.
The root of this awful performance for Wales lies in the Welsh Rugby Union’s decision to play four Test matches in November. Hopefully this match proves that Wales simply does not have a big enough playing base to take on four countries as it means they need to rest players for one of the matches.
The fourth game falls outside of the international window and puts far too much pressure on the players and hopefully this is the last time they will attempt it. What’s best for the players must come first or the Welsh public needs to prepare itself for more of the same.
If only Wales had played three Tests they could have achieved consistency of selection and built a cohesion to take them into the clash with the All Blacks next Saturday.
But in pursuit of money Wales attempted to play four games and in the end the draw was only hard on one side at the Millennium Stadium – Fiji.
Hats off to the Islanders. They brought a physical presence to Cardiff that Wales could not watch and this is a weakness that will now be exploited in the Six Nations and World Cup if Wales cannot put it right.
The performance proves that Fiji will once again be a big threat at next year’s World Cup. Wales will go into their pool game with the Fijians as outsiders and they have to train and play for the next 12 months as if they are the outsiders to qualify for the quarter-finals. Anything less will lead to disaster in New Zealand.
As a condemnation of the performance it’s rare that a player is the clear man of the match after playing just 30 minutes of a Test match, but in the Wales victory over Fiji scrum-half Mike Phillips had that kind of influence.
Phillips was clearly unhappy to be left on the bench for this game with the All Blacks heading for Cardiff next weekend, and when he came on with Wales trailing 13-6 he transformed the game, even if Seremaia Bai kicked Fiji to a 16-16 draw in injury time.
Wales were lacking tempo – he brought that.
Wales were lacking a physical threat at the gain line – he brought that.
And within eight minutes of him coming on he’d sent Lee Byrne over for a score (disallowed by the video referee) and Wales were finally awarded a penalty try to draw level.
Why on earth there was an outcry for him to be dropped after Wales lost to South Africa is anyone’s guess? He is head and shoulders above any other scrum-half in Wales.
Make no mistake Wales were poor, very poor for 49 minutes of this game and Fiji rightfully held a 13-6 lead. But then Warren Gatland brought on his equivalent of the four horsemen of the apocalypse Phillips, Stephen Jones, Bradley Davies and Tom Shanklin and yet another embarrassing defeat was averted.
They failed in the first half to meet the Fijian’s physical threat and there is no excuse for that.
Hopefully this game will ensure Wales understand where they are in the world order. With a full side they are seventh at best. Resting players mean they drop out of the top ten.
The All Blacks will not be quaking but perhaps that is the sort of motivation Wales need to pull out a performance the team and management can be proud of. It could be a long World Cup unless they do!
Wales (6) 16
Try: Pen Con: S Jones Pens: Biggar (2), Jones
Fiji (13) 16
Tries: Vulivuli Cons: Bai Pens: Bai (2), Matavesi
Wales: Byrne, North, Hook, Bishop, Brew, Biggar, R. Rees, James, Bennett, A. Jones, Gough, D. Jones, R. Jones, Lydiate, Thomas.
Replacements: Shanklin for Bishop (9), S. Jones for Biggar (49), Phillips for R. Rees (49), Davies for Gough (49). Not Used: Hibbard, Yapp, Faletau.
Fiji: Matavesi, Tagicakibau, Vulivuli, Lovobalavu, Goneva, Baikeinuku, Kentale, Ma’afu, Veikoso, Manu, I. Rawaqa, Qovu, Saukawa, Ravulo, Koyamaibole.
Replacements: Ratu for Tagicakibau (49), T. Rawaqa for Vulivuli (67), Taka for Kentale (55), Dewes for Ma’afu (59), Tuapati for Veikoso (51), Kalou for Ravulo (75), Qera for Koyamaibole (49).
Sin Bin: Baikeinuku (22).
Referee: Jerome Garces (FRA)