Rugby World Cup 2019: Latter stages beckon for Wales but frantic display against Fiji must be a warning

Alun Wyn Jones
Alun Wyn Jones looks deflated at the final whistle of Wales' 29-17 win over Fiji

After edging past explosive, intrepid Fiji to win 29-17, Wales should have designs on reaching a Rugby World Cup semi-final – at the least.

With that in mind, there are a few areas in which Warren Gatland’s side will need to improve. Although Fiji should be commended for their display in Oita, Wales’ performance was oddly naïve and frantic at times.

Sloppiness started from the kick-off, with Gareth Davies’ clearance sailing long…

…but staying in-field and presenting space and a straightforward opportunity to counter for Kini Murimurivalu. Shaun Edwards would not have been pleased with the urgency of this chase:

Wales pride themselves on fitness and disruptive defence that stifles opponents, so they regularly keep kicks within the field of play and hunt turnovers.

However, as Australia illustrated in the Pool D ‘s opening fixture last month, this is a pretty dangerous policy to impart against Fiji.

Sure enough, two phases later, Leone Nakarawa takes a pass from Ben Volavola at second-receiver. As the lock sizes up the situation, Dominiko Waqaniburotu cuts a line off Nakarawa’s right shoulder:

Ross Moriarty goes low, with Hadleigh Parkes staying high in a bid to wrap up the ball. However, Nakarawa still manages to release an offload…

…and Waqaniburotu’s angle beats Jonathan Davies:

Levani Botia’s spill means that Wales are let off. But they compound their early sluggishness.

Jonathan Davies clears and James Davies, eager to inject energy, starts his chase in an offside position…

…and keeps advancing ahead of his colleagues:

Fiji opt for a scrum from the ensuing penalty and Josua Tuisova bulldozes over Josh Adams:

Wales’ tackle completion was not at its best, but this first try arrived from an amalgamation of errors rather than simply Adams’ failure to stop Tuisova.

Five minutes later, more imprecise kicking leads to Fiji’s second try.

We begin as Liam Williams launches an up-and-under. Closer to the near side of the screen, Ken Owens is edging towards the 15-metre channel. The hooker is evidently expecting his full-back to keep ball in hand.

When Williams fails to regather, Semi Kunatani collects the loose ball and Fiji have another fractured situation to exploit. Kunatani arcs around towards the near touchline…

…and feeds fellow Olympic gold medallist Viliame Mata:

Owens is very lucky to get away with a yellow card for this reckless tackle…

…and, although, a try for Frank Lomani is chalked off for Semi Radradra’s forward pass, Murimurivalu powers over from a first-phase move:

Over a topsy-turvy game in Sapporo, Australia demonstrated how to give Fiji a foothold with poor kicking and, later, how to pick them apart.

The Wallabies’ passing was excellent in a more assured second half. They ran the ball out of their own territory in a measured, accurate manner and starved Fiji of counter-attacking chances:

Wales attempted to emulate that approach from this breakdown…

…but Parkes rushes the final pass under pressure from Botia and a forward pass is called by assistant referee Romain Poite:

It is a fallacy that spreading the ball against Fiji is a self-destructive tactic. What can be dangerous is a failure to control possession.

This next passage starts as Moriarty charges off the base of a scrum close to Wales’ own 10-metre line. He aims at referee Jerome Garces and in between Mata and Volavola:

When his surge is stopped beyond the halfway line, 14-man Fiji are in disarray. Gareth Davies feeds Dan Biggar, who moves the ball on to Parkes:

Ignoring a four-on-two, Wales’ inside centre steps inside…

…although he makes ground, Radradra scrambles back to force a knock-on as Parkes attempts an offload:

On the other side of half-time, this next sequence shows a lack of cohesion and patience from Wales.

Another up-and-under begins it, as Biggar chases his own chip:

Lomani and Kunatani rise to block off Biggar…

…and Volavola gathers to throw a long pass to Mata, who in turn finds Radradra:

This time, Wales shackle Fiji and a kick results. Two phases later, there is space towards the near touchline:

James Davies carries and is taken down by a drifting Tuisova. Rather than securing the ball, though, Jonathan Davies runs a line to receive an offload:

He ends up beyond the ball, which isolates James Davies. Kunatani can double back and jackal, showing off the close-quarter breakdown skills of a sevens specialist.

He survives the clear-out attempt of Alun Wyn Jones and Adams…

…winning a penalty.

Radradra caused havoc all afternoon, beating seven defenders in total. For context, albeit in vastly different conditions, Ireland beat 11 Wales defenders as a whole during the final match of the 2019 Six Nations.

This final clip begins with an electric run that confounds Parkes. James Davies does well to recover, though…

…and the tireless Josh Navidi is on hand to snaffle an offload that is meant for Mata:

From here, Wales have a chance to counter towards the near touchline with James Davies recovering to join his brother and Adams.

Only Tuisova and Radradra are opposite those three attackers:

However, Gareth Davies flings the ball towards the far touchline to Biggar and another long pass is spilled by Alun Wyn Jones:

A transition opportunity is snatched at and lost.

Wales deserve credit for digging deep to emerge from a draining match. They should beat Uruguay handily on Sunday to finish top of a difficult group.

They seem poised to face France in the last eight. Wales should prevail there, meaning a semi-final will pit them against South Africa, Ireland, Japan or Scotland.

A feasible route to the final is laid out before them. That said, their hard-fought win over Fiji has to be taken as stern warning.

Match images courtesy of ITV and World Rugby