Wales had to hang on with their fingernails as they edged Fiji in a thrilling Rugby World Cup Pool C match in Bordeaux, winning 32-26 on Sunday.
The Fijians came agonisingly close to recovering from 32-14 down with just seven minutes remaining, but a knock-on from Semi Radradra ended their fight.
Earlier, Wales had crossed the try-line through Josh Adams, George North, Louis Rees-Zammit and Elliot Dee, with Dan Biggar kicking 12 points off the tee.
For Fiji, their scorers were Waisea Nayacalevu, Lekima Tagitagivalu, Josua Tuisova and Mesake Losilosi Doge, but they will rue this loss as one that got away.
Warren Gatland masterminded two semi-final appearances during his previous reign as Wales’ head coach, and his players produced easily their best performance this year.
Biggar steered the ship impressively, while Wales’ defence often came up trumps at key moments, even somehow withholding Fiji late on after they were matched blow for blow.
Taulupe Faletau returned to Wales’ starting line-up after a calf muscle injury that sidelined him for the entire tournament warm-up schedule.
Fiji, meanwhile, showed one enforced change from the side that beat England at Twickenham last month, with fly-half Teti Tela replacing an injured Caleb Muntz.
Wales made an outstanding start, taking an 8-0 lead in as many minutes through a Biggar penalty and Adams try.
Biggar, playing in his final World Cup before retiring from Test rugby, kicked a long-range penalty before Wales carved open the Fiji defence.
North’s powerful midfield surge was taken on by scrum-half Gareth Davies before possession quickly went wide, and Adams – the top try-scorer at the 2019 World Cup in Japan – finished in style.
Fiji responded strongly, though, and Nayacalevu scored a 13th-minute try that Lomani converted.
It was a breathless contest in stamina-sapping heat, and Wales fell behind just four minutes later after Radradra broke clear, and his pass to Tagitagivalu gave him an easy run-in.
Frank Lomani’s conversion took Fiji 14-8 ahead, ringing alarm bells for Wales, before Biggar cut the gap by landing a second penalty.
And Wales regained the lead after relentless pressure reaped its reward as Nick Tompkins sent North over between the posts, with Biggar’s conversion securing an 18-14 advantage midway through the second quarter.
Fiji thought they had gone back in front just before the break, but Saracens prop Eroni Mawi was denied a try following a lengthy review of his dive for the line.
Davies was then on the receiving end of a high tackle by Selestino Ravutaumada and departed for a head injury assessment to be replaced by Tomos Williams. Wing Ravutaumada conceded a penalty but escaped further punishment from referee Matthew Carley as Wales held a four-point interval advantage.
Davies returned for the second period, and Biggar missed a 30-metre penalty chance before they conjured a third try in an unlikely fashion.
Sharp work by Tompkins unlocked Fiji’s defence, and skipper and flanker Jac Morgan provided the assist by kicking into space, and Rees-Zammit finished off, with Biggar’s conversion making it 25-14.
Fiji camped deep inside Wales’ 22 entering the final quarter, and it took sustained last-ditch defending to keep them out.
But the game looked to have drifted away from Fiji when Tagitagivalu was yellow-carded, and Wales scored before he had barely left the pitch.
The forwards drove a short-range lineout, and Dee claimed a touchdown that Biggar converted.
However, Wales then lost replacement prop Corey Domachowski to the sin-bin for a technical infringement, and Fiji had the final say through tries from Tuisova and Doge, but Gatland’s men held on.
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 George North, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Jac Morgan (c), 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Gareth Thomas
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Dafydd Jenkins, 20 Tommy Reffell, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Sam Costelow, 23 Rio Dyer
Fiji: 15 Ilaisa Droasese, 14 Selestino Ravutaumada, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu (c), 12 Semi Radradra, 11 Vinaya Habosi, 10 Teti Tela, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Lekima Tagitagivalu, 6 Albert Tuisue, 5 Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, 4 Isoa Nasilasila, 3 Luke Tagi, 2 Samuel Matavesi, 1 Eroni Mawi
Replacements: 16 Tevita Ikanivere, 17 Peni Ravai, 18 Mesake Doge, 19 Temo Mayanavanua, 20 Levani Botia, 21 Simione Kuruvoli, 22 Josua Tuisova, 23 Sireli Maqala
Referee: Matthew Carley (RFU)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (RFU), Christophe Ridley (RFU)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)
READ MORE: Wales player ratings: Dan Biggar leads the way in narrow win over Fiji
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