OITA, Japan (AP) — Unbeaten Wales is through to the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals after overcoming a serious fright from Fiji 29-17 in a drama-filled match under the dome in Oita on Wednesday.
The Six Nations champion was 10-0 down, and did not hit the front for good until winger Josh Adams’ hat-trick try an hour in.
Following the victory by four tries to three, Wales can top the Pool D from two-time champion Australia with a win against Uruguay on Sunday.
By then, Fiji will be back home, ruing having the Welsh on the ropes and not finishing them off.
“They have got some world-class athletes,” Wales coach Warren Gatland said. “I would have taken from 10-0 down to finish with a bonus point, it showed some great character.”
Gatland had paid Fiji respect by making only two cosmetic changes to the lineup which held off Australia, but he will overhaul it for the match against last-placed Uruguay in four days.
“We need to freshen our players, and hopefully we’re good enough to secure this group,” Gatland said. “The guys are a bit sore and battered.”
Fiji are relying on Australia to get a result against Georgia on Friday, so Fiji can finish third in the pool and earn automatic qualification for the 2023 tournament.
“We can go away with our heads held high after our performance today,” Fiji coach John McKee said. “It’s pleasing for me that we’ve finally had an opportunity on the world stage to show what this team’s capable of.”
Only five points separated the teams with about 10 minutes left. Then fullback Liam Williams gave Wales breathing space with a converted try created by a brilliant backhand offload from center Jonathan Davies.
In a chaotic first half, referee Jerome Garces referred five of the seven tries to video review. Three were ruled out — two by Wales, one by Fiji. Garces rubbed out another try by Fiji without video review because a forward pass was obvious.
Adams crossed three times in the half, but one got chalked off. So was a try by Wales flanker Josh Navidi disallowed.
The two Fiji first-half tries that counted went to right winger Josua Tuisova and fullback Kini Murimurivalu inside eight minutes, by which time Fiji scrumhalf Frank Lomani had one ruled out by the TMO after a forward pass from left winger Semi Radradra.
“Forward passes, they cost us big,” McKee said.
Added to that, there were three first-half sin-bins: Two for Fiji, after Wales hooker Ken Owens got his early on for dangerously launching No. 8 Viliame Mata over his shoulder.
The restart saw the TMO used yet again, this time denying Radradra a try in the left corner because of a forward pass from Murimurivalu.
Mindful of needing four tries and a bonus point, Fiji surged after Wales flanker James Davies got the game’s fourth yellow card. Fiji took a lineout and speared Wales with a huge driving maul for a penalty try.
“We didn’t take penalty shots, we took scrums, and we backed ourselves,” McKee said. “For large parts of the game that went well for us.”
Wales flyhalf Dan Biggar, who converted his side’s first-half tries, went off during the new half after taking a blow to the head. He also went off for a head injury assessment during the 29-25 win against Australia, and was cleared to play this match.
“He didn’t do an HIA; it was just because of the contact. He was removed from the field for that,” Gatland said. “He’s not in consideration for Sunday (against Uruguay).”
His replacement, Rhys Patchell, booted over a long penalty to level the match with about 20 minutes remaining.
Ten minutes later, Jonathan Davies launched Adams into the left corner. After yet another TMO review, Adams was confirmed in bounds.
When Williams ran clear in the 68th, the red-shirted Welsh hordes could finally roar with relief.
The 33,000 fans at Oita Stadium got their money’s worth from the third minute when Lomani fed Tuisova and he broke three tackles to score in the right corner.
Wales had a try ruled out three minutes later, when center Hadleigh Parkes was adjudged to have knocked on when robbing Murimurivalu in the buildup to a Navidi score. Fiji had one chalked off one minute later, and then Owens got sin-binned.
Defending against Fiji in this mood with 15 players was hard enough, so with 14 it was another level of torment.
Fiji swept left to right and Radradra fed Murimurivalu a looping pass in the right corner. But the conversion was missed again.
Fiji’s attacking brilliance came with large doses of indiscipline. Lock Tevita Cavubati was yellow-carded for carelessly diving shoulder-first into a ruck, and Biggar set up Adams in the left corner with a kick over the defense for a converted score in the 17th.
After Fiji flanker Semi Kunatani was sin-binned, Adams finished off a slick four-man passing move for 14-10.
“The way (Adams) finished those opportunities is a real skill,” Gatland said. “He’s definitely been a real find for us over the last year or so.”
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