Wales were forced to dig deeper than ever before to hang onto their lead at the death as they kicked-off their World Cup campaign with an epic 32-26 win over Fiji at Stade de Bordeaux.
Both sides scored four tries to pick up a bonus-point and the Fijians bagged a second point for closing the gap with two late tries to six points. They could have had more but for a knock-on in the last play, and they also got over the Welsh line on three other occasions but failed to secure the points.
Their hugely physical approach forced Wales to make 248 tackles compared to their 70 and they enjoyed 85% territory across the 80 minutes and 61% possession. If it was a rearguard action in the main, Wales also conjured up four tries of their own.
But having built a 32-14 lead after 66 minutes, it was far closer in the end than head coach Warren Gatland would have liked. The Fijians now meet Australia in round two, while Wales face Portugal.
Wales got off to a near perfect start and led within two minutes after Dan Biggar hit the mark with a penalty from 45 metres. It was just the tonic Jac Morgan’s side needed and it wasn’t long before George North, playing at his fourth World Cup, carved through the middle of the Fijian defence to lead the charge into the 22.
The ball was recycled and sent to the let wing, where Liam Williams sent Josh Adams racing over in the corner. Biggar couldn’t nail the conversion, but Wales were eight points to the good
The lead didn’t last long though as the Fijians began to live up to their nick name of ‘Flying Fijians’ as they pounded away at the Welsh defensive line. They scored two tries in quick succession, Frank Lomani converting them both to make it 14-8.
The first came from skipper Waisea Nayacalevu, who picked up a loose ball and somehow manged to slip past two defenders to race 30 metres to the line. Nayacalevu also had a hand in the second score as he linked with his centre partner Semi Radradra to send back row man Lekima Tagitagivalu diving over.
Wales were definitely under the cosh and their defensive character was tested to the maximum. They held firm and managed to change ends with a 19-14 interval lead.
Biggar punished a midfield offside with another 45 metre penalty and then a no arms tackle on Liam Williams gave Biggar the chance to kick to the right corner. The Fijians held up two line-out drives, but couldn’t stop Nick Tompkins sending his midfield partner North racing over at the posts for a try that Biggar improved.
The Fijian forwards continued to storm the Welsh castle after the break, but Morgan’s men kept their composure and increased their lead with a Lousi Rees-Zammit try from a Morgan cross kick and then a driving line-0ut score from replacement hooker Elliot Dee.
Biggar converted them both and Wales were 32-14 ahead after 66 minutes. The Dee try had secured a bonus point as well, but the game was far from over.
The Fijians had lost flanker Albert Tuisue moments before the Dee try for pulling down a Welsh driving line-out and then Wales lost Corey Domachowski for coming around a ruck too qui ly and playing the scrum half.
Five minutes later, as the penalties began to rain down on the Welsh players, blockbusting centre Josua Tuisova powered over for a try that Teti Tela improved to set-up a frantic final seven minutes.
Now Wales were on the rack and had to put every ounce of effort into protecting their lead. Mesake Doge then went over from a five-metre tap penalty in the 78th minute and that made it 32-26.
As the Fijians went in for the kill, Wales defended across the field and thought they had conjured up an opportunity to score a fifth try when they sent a long ball out to the left wing when Radradra was free. The ball bounced in front of him and then came off his chest and went forward with the line at his mercy 15 metres away.
It was the break Wales were fighting for and with that error, Matt Carley blew his whistle to end a breathless contest.