Crunch Match One - Wales vs Fiji
The Welsh faithful returned to Cardiff to watch their team play Fiji at the Millenium stadium. But this week the formula had changed. The two teams were playing for a quarter final berth against the South Africans, or, an early exit from the World Cup.
The Welsh had recorded reasonably comfortable wins against Japan and Canada before their 12 point loss to the Australians. They are ranked eighth in the world and were expected to fend off a reasonably strong challenge from the Fijians.
By comparison Fiji had to work hard to account for Japan 35-31, and Canada 29-16. Australia clocked up 50 points in seeing off the Fijians, but despite the very different paths taken to arrive at this game, the formula was simple. The winner of this match would go forward, the loser was out of the cup. The Welsh had some small comfort in that if they achieved a draw, their bonus points they had accumulated would see them through.
The Welsh were methodical and structure in the opening exchanges, and went to a 3-0 lead early. but after the Welsh missed a second shot at goal the Fijians woke up. In a period of play worthy of their seven-a-side team the Fijians scored dynamic tries in quick succession and by the 24th minute they had put a point a minute on the men in red to be leading 25-3. Wales suddenly clicked into gear themselves and mounted a methodical comeback that saw them grind away at the Fijian lead, against a team that was reduced to 10 men just before half time.
The yellow carding of Quera was nearly a crucial decision. The sin-binning was a little dubious, particularly when you consider many of the other offenses that weren't punished in this match. Wales scored points with remarkable ease in this period and there was an air of inevitability about the way the Fijian lead kept getting smaller. When Martyn Williams plucked a pass out of the Fijians back line and scored his try it looked to be all over for the Fijians.
But showing the same sort of resolve which has seen Tonga do so well in this tournament the Fijians dug deep and found they really did have the reserves to win matches like this. A string of penalties and finally a hard earned try to Dewes saw the Fijians erupt in delight when the final whistle was blown with them holding the edge 38-34.
Wales can expect a grilling from their press who expect big things of their team, while the Fijians can look forward to a huge quarterfinal against a team who must now be amongst the favourites to win the cup - South Africa.