Warren Gatland reflected on a “pretty significant” victory for his team after Wales brought the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals within sight by beating Fiji 32-26 at Stade de Bordeaux.
Wales held their nerve in a frantic and pulsating Pool C clash. It was tense throughout, especially when Fiji scored twice in the last seven minutes and centre Semi Radradra knocked on close to the line in the game’s last play.
At 32-14 ahead deep inside the final quarter, Wales looked home and dry, but Fiji had other ideas.
Asked if he had his heart in his mouth during the closing stages, Gatland said: “Absolutely. With seven minutes to go I wondered about just going down to the changing rooms and waiting until the final whistle.
“I am absolutely delighted with the result. I think it is pretty significant for us.
“With 65 minutes on the clock we were comfortable, and we needed to control that. We gave away some unnecessary penalties, lost a little bit of composure.
“We’ve always been a team that builds on confidence and get better in tournaments. So that is exciting.
“I was pretty frustrated and angry about the last period of the game, but it’s about being honest and making sure we learn from it.
“I am delighted with the win, but we made it a lot harder for ourselves than we needed to, made some dumb decisions in the last 15 minutes.
“We changed a few things at half-time. We really wanted to go for them up front in terms of taking it out of their legs.
“A few of their players looked a bit tired and we looked in control, but typical Fiji – they never say die, get a couple of sniffs of a try and come back at you.”
Wales ultimately prevailed through tries from Josh Adams, George North, Louis Rees-Zammit and Elliot Dee, with fly-half Dan Biggar adding two penalties and three conversions in a bonus-point success.
— Welsh Rugby Union (@WelshRugbyUnion) September 10, 2023
Fiji claimed tries through captain Waisea Nayacalevu, flanker Lekima Tagitagivalu and replacements Josua Tuisova and Mesake Doge – Frank Lomani converted two and Teti Tela also added a conversion – yet Wales gained the victory they craved ahead of remaining Pool C appointments with Portugal, Australia and Georgia.
Wales were close to a staggering 250 tackles in the game, and Biggar said: “It was absolutely exhausting. The last 10 minutes felt like the clock never moved.
“We put everything into it, Fiji came strong at the end, but I am really thrilled for this group of players that we managed to see it through because the work we’ve put in over the past few months has just been incredible.
“It puts us in such a good position in the group. I am just absolutely drained.”
Captain Jac Morgan said: “We have that mentality of never giving up, always working hard for each other.
“We’ve been through a couple of camps with some tough training over the past couple of weeks, and it has really brought the boys close as you saw.”
Fiji took two losing bonus points from the game, which might prove critical in terms of the group’s finishing places and race for a last-eight spot.
Head coach Simon Raiwalui said: “We had our opportunities. We weren’t clinical enough. There were a couple of disallowed tries, and we had a chance at the end.
“We weren’t clinical enough to finish off, and we move on to Australia next week.
“We made mistakes at critical moments, and we had to chase it at the end. It was a very good Welsh team.”