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Wales labor to beat 14-man Fiji 17-13

November 15, 2014

CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Wales was made to look second-rate by Fiji again as it failed to fully exploit a man advantage in eking out a 17-13 win in a poor rugby test at Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

Wales sent its wingers flashing over for tries in the first quarter, and the expected romp looked on.

But the Welsh lost control by constantly turning over possession in ball-jolting tackles. The scrum and lineout, powerful in the first half, became unreliable in the second.

Wales led by a flattering 17-6 at halftime but couldn’t score again, despite being a man up after Fiji prop Campese Ma’afu was sent off in the 52nd minute. The Welsh had two tries disallowed in a second half in which neither side appeared to show a game plan.

Instead, error was piled upon error under the closed roof in front of a restless crowd of 61,326, 6,000 more than attended the Wallabies test a week before.

“I’m disappointed in the performance,” Wales captain Gethin Jenkins said. “We lacked a lot of basic skills, and lost the ball too often.

“Fiji gave us a hell of a game, and we’re just glad to be out on the right end of the scoreboard.”

Fiji played its best rugby in the first half, and to its credit, didn’t implode after Ma’afu left. But it kicked or threw away too much of its hard-won possession, and a converted intercept try two minutes from the end gave the scoreline a fair reflection of the game.

“It was a tremendously gutsy performance with 14 players, but we are disappointed at losing,” coach John McKee said.

Wales and Fiji will meet again on the same ground in pool play in the Rugby World Cup in 11 months, but this result will not embolden the Welsh, who made eight changes before the All Blacks arrive next week, and paid for it.

In a cut-throat pool with Australia and England, Fiji will naturally be targeted as must-win match by all three, especially Wales, which has struggled at home against the underestimated Fijians in three straight outings. There was a one-point win in 2005, and a draw in 2010. In between was the famous win at Nantes, France, in the 2007 World Cup.

“Looking towards next year,” McKee said, “there is a lot of improvement to come from this group of players. By Rugby World Cup, we will be stronger.”

Wales deserved to lead 10-0 after the first quarter with tries to wings George North and Alex Cuthbert. Flyhalf Rhys Priestland, the silent focal point of the week for being booed by a few Wales fans when he entered the Wallabies test as an injury replacement, was a key link in both tries.

Fiji signaled between those tries how dangerous it can be, when Priestland dropped the ball, center Vereniki Goneva scooped it up and hacked ahead, and winger Waisea Nayacalevu, bending to pick up the bouncing ball in front of the line, knocked on.

The Fijians’ drift defense easily lined up the Welsh backs, and their counterattacks easily ripped apart the Welsh defense in the second quarter, when Fiji gained only a couple of Nemani Nadolo penalties, when it should have had tries and the lead.

The second penalty goal came after North lost possession, Fiji rampaged 80 meters, only to be denied by offside Wales hooker Scott Baldwin. Fiji captain Akapusi Qera then bombed a try when he ignored a two-man overlap on his left and took a tackle.

Ma’afu was sin-binned late in the half for collapsing a rolling maul. Wales immediately tried the same again, Fiji lock Leone Nakarawa collapsed it, but instead of being sin-binned, he saw referee Pascal Gauzere reward Wales with a penalty try.

Ma’afu was back in play only five minutes, when he took out the legs of a leaping Bradley Davies in the lineout, and was sent off.

Wales flanker Justin Tipuric had just had a try disallowed because it was unsighted. Given the penalty from Ma’afu’s error, Wales went for a lineout, but the throw-in was crooked.

Later, on attack, Fiji passed ruck ball straight to the Welsh backline. It ended up with Wales No. 8 Taulupe Faletau scoring at the other end, but play was called back because fullback Liam Williams was ruled not to have released the ball in a tackle.

Nadolo finished with an intercept try, which he converted, after Wales intercepted a Fiji raid. It was that kind of game.