The accountants got the better of the artists, but it was almost nothing. For its first match of the World Cup, Sunday September 10, in a packed Bordeaux Stadium decked out in red, Wales beat Fiji 32 to 26. An enhanced success since four tries were scored from each side. In this clash between the 10e and the 8e in the world rankings, it was the lowest ranked who won.
It was the boot of veteran Dan Biggar, author of three conversions and two penalties, which tipped the scales towards the Red Dragons. The flyhalf of the Toulon Rugby club, which is playing its last World Cup with the XV du Poireau, was also named man of the match.
In this unbridled match, the defenses sometimes looked like saloon doors. A lot of tackles, in fact, were missed on both sides. If they once again developed an offensive and attractive game, the “Flying Fijians” made too many errors to beat the solid Red Dragons for lack of creativity.
It takes two to tango and the two teams put on the best show of the first weekend of the World Cup. The announced style opposition kept its promises. Faced with the Fijians throwing themselves like death from starvation on each ball, systematically seeking to spread the play towards the wings, winning most of the duels thanks to their power on impact, coach Warren Gatland’s men suffered.
Followers of a more “clic” rugby than their opponents, the Red Dragons had the merit of not disuniting in the face of the crazy creativity of the Melanesians. With an average of 57 selections on the clock, compared to only 14 for the Fijians, the Leek XV made its experience speak for itself.
Having got off to a good start, Warren Gatland’s men thought they had done the hard part when they were 18 points ahead with a quarter of an hour to go. But the Fijians scored two tries in the last ten minutes. Their winger Semi Radradra even had a match point in the final seconds, but he committed a knock-on while he was alone at the end of the line.
The Fijians may also regret the three other times they crossed the line without seeing their efforts validated by the referee, either for a forward (35e62e), or lack of video images to confirm that the player had indeed flattened (77e).
Ultimately, this result comes as a semi-surprise. Between the Red Dragons, who had only won two of their last ten matches, and the Fijians, who remained on four victories in five matches in 2023, with prestigious successes against Tonga, Samoa and Japan in the Pacific Nations Cup, a victory against England (22-30) and a defeat without merit against France (34-17) in the preparation phase, the dynamic leaned more towards the Melanesian side.
After the scathing slap inflicted by the South Africans (52-16), on August 19, in a preparation match for the World Cup, the Welsh needed to reure themselves. Mission half-fulfilled, because they were sometimes close to breaking during this completely crazy match.
“Le Monde” deciphers the news and the challenges of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Captains Alun Wyn Jones (37 years old, 158 caps), Justin Tipuric (34 years old, 93 caps) and Rhys Webb (34 years old, 40 caps) have retired internationally and their absence has been felt. Coach Warren Gatland also has to deal with a cascade of injuries, notably winger Alex Cuthbert (57 caps) and hooker Ken Owens (91 caps).
In terms of points, Wales shares the lead with Australia, victorious Saturday over Georgia (35-15) with the bonus. On September 16, the Welsh have a meeting in Nice with Portugal, the Tom Thumb of the competition, led by Frenchman Patrice Lagisquet.
Narrowly beaten this evening, the Fijians can continue to dream because they leave Bordeaux with a double defensive and offensive bonus. They will play their qualification on September 17 against the Australians at the Geoffroy-Guichard stadium in Saint-Etienne.