Fiji created the biggest shock of the World Cup so far with a sensational 38-34 win over Wales on Saturday to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 1987.
The Pacific islanders produced a wonderful opening period to lead 25-10 at the break and put themselves on course for the runners-up spot in Pool B behind Australia.
Tries by Akapusi Qera, Vilimoni Delasau, Kele Leawere and Graham Dewes meant Fiji will travel to Marseille to face Pool A winners South Africa in next weekend’s quarterfinals.
”It’s a great day for rugby as it shows the second tier teams can compete at this level and it will take some time to sink in,” Fiji coach Ilivasi Tabua told reporters.
”To achieve our goal of reaching the quarterfinals of the World Cup is an amazing feeling.”
Wales started well in the nine-try classic and took an early lead when Stephen Jones slotted over a penalty after three minutes.
Fiji hit back and their increasing pressure told in the 14th minute when Qera took Seru Rabeni’s pass to finish under the posts. Nicky Little added the conversion.
The sevens specialists opened up and extended their advantage four minutes later when the dazzling Rabeni broke out of his own half before offloading to wing Delasau who claimed his own chip to beat Mark Jones to score.
Fiji were in complete control when they scored their third try of the half after Qera’s lung-bursting run. His pass found lock Leawere who powered over and Little’s conversion gave the Fijians a 25-3 lead.
Wales were desperate to get a foothold in the match and, after a succession of scrums, Alix Popham was able to claim a simple pushover try.
James Hook took over the kicking duties from Jones and converted. But he missed a penalty on the stroke of halftime which would have narrowed the gap further.
With Qera languishing in the sin-bin, Shane Williams scored a wonderful solo try after the break. The little wing took Tom Shanklin’s pass and side-stepped past Isoa Neivua’s tackle.
Skipper Gareth Thomas celebrated his 100th cap in style by rounding off a fine move involving Hook and Jones to score in the right corner. Jones got in on the act himself after 51 minutes to put Wales into the lead for the first time.
Little responded with two penalties to hand Fiji the lead again and Fiji could have sewn up the match when Ifereimi Rawaqa was halted only by Thomas’s marvellous last ditch tackle.
Flanker Martyn Williams intercepted Little’s pass to put Wales ahead again before Dewes’s match-winning try was awarded by the television match official.
”Of course this is a failure,” Thomas told reporters. ”We gave Fiji too much respect and too much time on the ball and they punished us for it.”
It was the third time Wales have lost to a Pacific Island side at the World Cup after they were beaten by Samoa in 1991 and 1999.
Fiji will play their first quarterfinal since the inaugural World Cup in 1987 when they lost 31-16 to France in Auckland. – Reuters