Three things learned from Wales vs Fiji World Cup thriller
Wales and Fiji produced the match the Rugby World Cup required after a weekend of largely one-sided affairs with the Welsh winning a pulsating 32-26 cliffhanger in Bordeaux on Sunday.
BORDEAUX - Wales and Fiji produced the match the Rugby World Cup required after a weekend of largely one-sided affairs with the Welsh winning a pulsating 32-26 cliffhanger in Bordeaux on Sunday.
Wales will be content their second Pool C match is against minnows Portugal next Saturday while Fiji realistically need to beat Australia on Sunday if they are to make the last eight.
AFP Sport picks out three things to take from their encounter:
Wales head coach Warren Gatland had said prior to the match he was a bag of nerves on the sidelines, feeling powerless as a coach while having to rely on the players on the pitch to make the decisions.
So it was no wonder the New Zealander said he had his heart in his mouth as Wales, who were 32-14 up with less than 20 minutes to go, were a converted try away from losing.
It had shades of their collapse against Australia last November when they collapsed after leading by 21 points in the second half. That defeat cost Wayne Pivac his job and Gatland accepted to return for a second spell.
Gatland admitted some "dumb decisions" had been taken on the pitch but the victory would serve them well for what lay ahead.
"What I'm pleased about is some really positive stuff, but some really good learnings for a group of young players," he said.
"We've always been a team that build on confidence and get better in tournaments. So that's exciting."
PAST EXPERIENCE AUGURS WELL FOR GATLAND
Gatland guided Wales to two World Cup semifinals in his hugely successful first tenure and he sees resemblances between this team and that of the one who reached the last four in 2019.
That is no mean comparison given the 2019 vintage also won the third of his three Grand Slams as Welsh coach.
Several of that team are still around such as Taulupe Faletau and Dan Biggar, mixed with the young tyros of Louis Rees-Zammit and co-captain Jac Morgan.
"I kind of go back four, five years ago," Gatland said.
"We had been through this process where the team was growing and it took us a bit of time to comfortably implement the game management and understanding, players not giving away stupid penalties and putting us under pressure.
"So today there were incidents of that. It's making sure we're honest and learn from those situations and how we manage things going forward, and everyone getting better."
Gatland was not just addressing the young ones for fluffing their lines. Biggar gave fellow veteran George North a mouthful when the centre tried to run the ball out of his 22 rather than kick the ball dead to end the first half.
"That is not personal, it's being professional," said Gatland, defending Biggar.
HELP RUGBY'S 'POOR' GET RICHER: RAIWALUI
Head coach Simon Raiwalui said Fiji did the country proud, but he added for them to be on a level playing field with tier-one nations they need to be playing more Tests against them.
They are the great entertainers of Test rugby, but they could also be a genuine contender for the title as they showed when they recorded a historic win over England at Twickenham last month.
Their performance against Wales only added to the strength of Raiwalui's argument.
"When you are playing against the best teams consistently you are improving your combinations," said Raiwalui.
"It is crucial in our development and we need more opportunities to play against those developed countries.
"The rich get richer and the poor stay the same."
Raiwalui praised World Rugby for their efforts in the warm-up games prior to the sport's quadrennial showpiece.
"World Rugby did a great job in setting up those matches against France and England," he said.
"We don't normally get a couple of developed nations in a row, which is the goal for most developing nations like Fiji."
Raiwalui's view received unqualified support from Gatland.
"I understand that completely," he said.
"When I first came to Wales I was asked by the CEO what sort of games and fixtures I wanted to get in the autumn, and I said get the best teams in the world you can, it's the only way you get better."