Narrow victory for Wales


Published: Saturday 15th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Wales gained their first victory since last season’s RBS 6 Nations Championship by predictably subduing Millennium Stadium visitors Fiji – but there was little to worry world champions New Zealand.

The All Blacks will roll into Cardiff next week for the latest instalment in a fixture they have not lost for 61 years.

And Wales will need to considerably up the ante after a stop-start display aganst 14-man Fiji saw them triumph 17-13 through tries by wings George North and Alex Cuthbert, plus a penalty try, while Rhys Priestland kicked one conversion.

Centre Nemani Nadolo kicked two first-half penalties and converted his late interception try for the visitors, who had prop Campese Ma’afu sent off early in the second period on receipt of a second yellow card.

Wales were at their most effective when they kept things simple – as underlined through North and Cuthbert both being beneficiaries of well-executed attacking moves – but mistakes riddled a dire second-half effort.

Wales did not score a point after the 39th minute, and it was Fiji who claimed a moral victory against a Wales side they will meet again during the pool stages of next year’s World Cup.

For Wales coach Warren Gatland, it is a case of back to the drawing board as New Zealand loom large, but on this latest evidence, it is a game the All Blacks should win confortably.

Gatland made eight changes from the side beaten 33-28 by Australia last Saturday, which included starts for Priestland, centre Scott Williams, hooker Scott Baldwin and flanker Justin Tipuric.

Fiji arrived in Cardiff following a comprehensive loss against France last time out, but Wales knew they could not be treated lightly, given a line-up that included powerful Leicester back Vereniki Goneva and former Gloucester back-row forward Akapusi Qera, who captained the South Sea Islanders.

Wales made their intention clear from the outset, looking to keep ball in hand and play with considerable pace, and it took just six minutes to break down Fiji’s defence.

The visitors found themselves on the back foot in terms of territory, and Wales prospered through some slick handling by Priestland and Scott Williams, who sent an unmarked North over for his 19th Test try.

Priestland missed the touchline conversion attempt, but Wales were off and running, even though they had a lucky escape just five minutes later after Goneva’s kick and chase caused panic in the home defence, but wing Waisea Nayacalevu knocked on under pressure from North with the try-line at his mercy.

Wales were content to be patient and play through the phases, with Tipuric prominent as an all-action link man, and a superb Priestland touchfinder created another strong attacking platform, and another patient build-up resulted in North’s fellow wing Cuthbert touching down following a Taulupe Faletau charge.

Priestland again missed the conversion, but Wales were 10-0 ahead inside the opening quarter, which suggested a long afternoon ahead for Fiji.

Fiji opened their account through a 23rd-minute penalty by Nadolo, and he doubled his team’s score with another penalty five minutes later as Wales went off the boil following such a lively opening.

It sparked a spell of flamboyant Fiji attacking play – exactly the type of game that Wales did not want to get dragged into – and the home team had a reprieve when Qera ignored two unmarked team-mates outside him following another impressive break by Goneva.

Nadolo missed a chance to narrow the gap to a point when he drifted an angled penalty kick wide, but Wales temporarily appeared rudderless after being rattled by Fiji’s trademark adventure.

But they were helped when Fiji prop Campese Ma’afu was sin-binned for killing possession, and a penalty try quickly followed for Wales after Fiji pulled down a maul. Priestland’s conversion made it 17-6, and ensured Wales regained control going into the break.

Wales’ early competence and confidence then continued to disappear through a malaise of poor passing and even worse handling, which was underlined when centre Jamie Roberts spilled possession under no pressure in midfield just 30 metres out from Fiji’s line.

Wales continued to work hard up-front, though, and the forwards drove a lineout over Fiji’s line, which French referee Pascal Gauzere referred to television match official Carlo Damasco, but no try was awarded following a lengthy adjudication.

And Fiji were then given a Herculean task when Nottingham forward Ma’afu received a second yellow card – this time for a lineout offence – and Gauzere sent him off with 27 minutes of the contest still remaining.

But Fiji’s resolve was strengthened as a result, and Nadolo’s interception score when he gathered a speculative pass from Priestland – plus the centre’s conversion – underlined Wales’ problems and left Fiji celebrating a resilient second-half display.

Published: Saturday 15th November 2014 by The News Editor

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