The accountants got the better of the artists, but it was close to 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 10th and 7th 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 opener of the Toulon Rugby club, which is playing its last World Cup with the XV du Leek, has also been 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.
Welsh experience speaks
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 has 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 "classic" rugby than their opponents, the Red Dragons had the merit of not being disunited in the face of the crazy creativity of the Melanesians. With 57 selections on average on the clock, against only 14 for the Fijians, the XV of Leek made his experience speak.
Having got off to a good start, the Welsh 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 made a forward move when he was alone at the end of the line.
The Fijians may also regret the three other times where they crossed the line without seeing their efforts validated by the referee, either for a forward (35th, 62nd), or for lack of video images to confirm that the player had well flattened (77th).
Ultimately, this result comes as a semi-surprise. Between the Red Dragons, who had won only 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 stinging slap inflicted by the South Africans (52-16), on August 19, in a preparation match for the World Cup, the Welsh needed to be reassured. Mission half-fulfilled, because they were sometimes close to breaking during this completely crazy match.
"We are delighted with the result. This is a significant success against a direct opponent for qualification. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this match. Everyone is improving. We have a quality team with good staff,” Warren Gatland, the New Zealand coach of the Welsh team, explained at a press conference.
In terms of points, Wales share the group lead with Australia, victorious on Saturday from Georgia (35-15) with the bonus. On September 16, the Welsh have an appointment in Nice with Portugal, the Tom Thumb of the competition, led by the 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 qualifier on September 17 against the Australians at the Geoffroy-Guichard stadium in Saint-Etienne.
“We are very disappointed with tonight's result, but it doesn't change anything for us,” said Fiji coach Simon Raiwalui. It’s a very difficult group. In the next match, we will have a big test against Australia, who are a very good team. »