Cuthbert leads late rally as stuttering Wales overcome 14-man Fiji

  • Wales 38-23 Fiji
  • Fiji wing Eroni Sau sent off in first half

For 60 minutes a first Welsh defeat to Fiji since 2007 looked on the cards as Wayne Pivac’s side huffed and puffed against 14 men. Wales, frankly, were awful for large parts.

That they came out on top to record a first win in the autumn was down to a late salvo which saw them score three tries in the final quarter through Alex Cuthbert, Louis Rees-Zammit and Liam Williams. Rees-Zammit’s effort clinched the game as he showed his trademark pace. It was a stunning effort.

Fiji’s Eroni Sau was red carded in the 25th minute for a dangerous tackle to the head of the Wales centre Johnny Williams, but the home side struggled badly even with a man advantage.

Fiji smashed Wales to bits at the contact area. Pivac’s attack was rudderless and lacked direction. It was a relief then for a strong Cardiff crowd when Rees-Zammit put the game to bed.

“You can’t coach express pace and I’m really, really pleased for Louis. It was a moment of individual brilliance,” Pivac said. “Fiji threw everything at us when they went down a man. They had everything to gain and nothing to lose. The big problem for us for the first 60 minutes was the breakdown.”

Wales’ preparation for the game could hardly have been worse. Prop Tomas Francis withdrew on the morning of the game after failing to recover from a concussion. Josh Adams then injured a calf in the warm-up. WillGriff John and Nick Tompkins stepped in, but John was forced off after just seven minutes for a head injury assessment.

Eroni Sau was sent off for this tackle on Johnny Williams.
Eroni Sau was sent off for this tackle on Johnny Williams. Photograph: Ben Evans/Huw Evans/Shutterstock

By then, Wales were already behind, Waisea Nayacalevu having taken just four minutes to open the scoring. Ben Volavola converted and kicked two penalties either side of Wales hitting back when the impressive hooker, Ryan Elias, was driven over from a lineout maul.

The game changed when Sau saw red. He had already tackled Williams to the floor when he went in for a second hit and caught the Welshman. The referee, Nic Berry, consulted his TMO, Stuart Terheege, and initially seemed to suggest he would have been happy with a yellow card, but there was no other option than to show red.

Fiji were reduced to 13 men when London Irish’s Albert Tuisue received a yellow card.

Kieran Hardy promptly sniped over from a scrum and Wales thought they had grabbed a third try when Dan Biggar cross-kicked to Rees-Zammit, whose pace took him to the line. Berry and Terheege ruled out the score for Rees-Zammit being in touch in the buildup as he flicked a Fiji kick back into play. Wales were lucky to be ahead at the break, but Volavola landed a long-range penalty after half-time.

Wales were all at sea. They had no direction, little ambition, and no platform to play off. Even a man light, Fiji showed them how it should be done. Setariki Tuicuvu took a poor Biggar kick, marked it inside his own 22, and set off on a careering run down the left. Vilimoni Botitu was in support and he then found Nayacalevu at full pelt. Nayacalevu beat the covering Liam Williams into the corner and Volavola nailed the touchline kick.

An upset looked likely, but Fiji’s Eroni Mawi saw yellow for repeated infringements from his team. Wales took advantage with Elias being driven over for his second try before Cuthbert produced a memorable finish in the corner for his first international try since 2017.

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Rees-Zammit then stepped up. Picking up possession inside his own half, he kicked ahead with his weaker left foot. There were plenty of covering Fiji defenders, but Rees-Zammit’s turn of foot was extraordinary. He was first to the ball against all the odds and just got downward pressure before it went dead.

There was still time for Liam Williams to put gloss on the scoreline after Tompkins scythed through midfield. Fiji’s Welsh head coach, Gareth Baber, said: “Discipline cost us the game. One of our players had a rush of blood.”

Contributor

Alex Bywater at the Principality Stadium

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