RWC23: Fiji rue missed opportunities against Wales

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Fiji's Semi Radradra and Waisea Nayacalevu with Nick Tompkins of Wales
Fiji's Semi Radradra and Waisea Nayacalevu with Nick Tompkins of Wales during their 2023 Rugby World Cup game. Image: RNZ Pacific/Photosport

By Iliesa Tora, RNZ Pacific sports reporter in Bordeaux

Fiji lost a game they could and should have won as Wales survived a late onslaught to take out their Rugby World Cup encounter 32-26 in the French southwestern city of Bordeaux.

It could have gone Fiji’s way right at the end.

Veteran Semi Radradra could not hold on to a floating long pass from replacement Juisova Tuisova and knocked on with 10 metres to go.

RUGBY WORLD CUP FRANCE 2023

Radradra had only one player to beat but lost the ball as he went to take it.

That moment and the referee’s decisions appeared to count against the Flying Fijians.

English referee Matthew Carley disallowed two tries from Fiji, with Eroni Mawi and Mesake Doge piling over in each halves.

Flying Fijian head coach Simon Raiwalui said the referee worked against Fiji.

‘Respect their work but …’
“Respect their work but there were calls he made that worked against us,” said Raiwalui.

Captain Waisea Nayacalevu was understandably disappointed when he spoke to the media after the match.

“I am proud of my boys,” he said.

But it was the fired up Fijians who took the game to the Welsh in the last 20 minutes of the game and scored two tries, through replacements Doge and Tuisova.

The Welsh then displayed delaying tactics at the restarts after both Fiji’s second half tries as they took their time walking back to halfway, and their efforts were booed by the crowd.

Former Fijian sevens player Seva Waisega said both teams played well but Fiji left it too late.

“It was a great game from both teams. There are some decisions that we totally disagree with,” he said.

‘Great comeback’
“Great comeback from the Fiji team but I think it was a little bit too late,” he said.

Even former Fiji 7s coach Ben Ryan shared his disappointment on X, formerly Twitter.

“Rugby is so inconsistent,” he said.

Wales led 18-14 at half-time.

Wales managed to hang on as the Flying Fijians turned on the heat in the first spell.

Some questionable calls by Carley saw Fiji losing what looked like a sure try to prop Eroni Mawi who dived over Welsh tacklers beside the post as Fiji looked to regather the lead.

While fans thought that was a sure try, Carley and the TMO team ruled otherwise, saying that the ball was knocked forward on the try line.

Wales struck first points through flyhalf Dan Biggar straight after kick-off after the Fijians were penalised.

The Flying Fijians attacked right back and drove towards the posts but were penalised for holding the ball on the ground a second time.

Biggar kicked for touch and from the ensuing lineout, winger Josh Adams dotted down in the corner after he was standing out wide.

Missed kick attempts
Biggar and Teti Tela missed their attempts after as Fiji started putting together some phases.

Captain Nayacalevu picked the bouncing ball off the ground after a Fijian attack, and bust his way through the defence to score his side’s first try.

Half-back Frank Lomani converted and Fiji closed the gap to 8-7.

Another good Fijian attack saw flanker Lekima Tagitagivalu run over for his side’s second try which was converted by Lomani.

Biggar kicked another Welsh penalty before big George North ran a straight line and took the ball following a Welsh attack, running in untouched for his try.

Fiji were hard on attack again with Mawi diving over the Welsh tacklers only for the referee to rule a knock-on.

Close second half
Wales’ Loius Ress Zammit got on the scoreboard early in the second spell and Biggar’s conversion put the side ahead 25-14.

Fiji started putting some phases together and worked their way towards the tryline.

However, lanky No.7 Lekima Tagitagivalu was sin-binned for 10 minutes after infringing in the tackle-ruck situation, and Wales mauled their way to the tryline with Elliot Dee scoring.

Biggar’s ensuing conversion saw them lead 32-14.

With prop Liam Williams off the field for 10, the Fijians attacked again.

Tuisova barged his way across before Doge also crashed over.

Tela converted Tuisova’s try as Wales led 32-26 with time almost up.

One last attack
Then the Fijians made one last attack, Tuisova then firing a long pass out wide to Radradra, who spilled it forward in the last action of the game.

The fast paced, hard-hitting, ethralling match was labelled by the commentators as an instant Rugby World Cup classic.

The statistics show how good Fiji were in some aspects of the game.

For example, Fiji carried the ball over 652 metres against Wales’ 378.

The Flying Fijians made 174 runs, compared to Wales’ 81; gained carries 88 metres over the gain line against Wales’ 46; and made 169 passes compared to 108 for Wales.

The Fijian forwards dominated in the rucks battle, winning 130 over Wales’ 40.

Fiji now prepares to face Australia next week in a must win game if they want to get out of the group stages of the competition.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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