Saturday 22 July 2017

Jenkins a casualty following Dragons' Fiji fiasco

Wales 34 Fiji 38

Gareth Thomas is a picture of dejection after Wales' shock exit from the World Cup
Gareth Thomas is a picture of dejection after Wales' shock exit from the World Cup

It is cruel and regrettable that Gareth Jenkins's sacking as Wales's head coach should steal the headlines from one of the World Cup's greatest matches.

The 25,000 or so Welsh supporters at the colourful Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes did not know whether to laugh or cry and ended up doing a bit of both.

Fiji's joyous progress as Pool B runners-up to a second quarter-final 20 years after their first was reward for their traditionally adventurous approach combined with enough hard labour to complete the job.

Arguably the prinicipal factor in a see-saw match of five Welsh tries to four by the self-styled "flying Fijians" was not the difference between two teams from opposite sides of the globe and diametrically different rugby heritages, but their similarities.

Both exploited turnovers and loose ball with devastating and thrilling attacks to create sumptuous tries.

Both possessed the inner will to fight back from being behind -- Fiji led 25-3 after 25 minutes; Wales rallied to be 29-25 and 34-31 ahead during the second half -- yet also the frailty to let their opponents take the initiative.

At the final whistle it was Wales's captain, Gareth Thomas, giving the valedictory speech to his stunned team. Wales were out at the pool stage for the third time after suffering the same fate in 1991 and 1995.

Sympathised

"We couldn't keep hold of the ball for reasons I can't put my finger on until we do the analysis," said Thomas, who has probably played his last Test, and for once you sympathised rather than wondered at a ducking of the question.

Wales knew, of course, that Fiji would run hard and tackle harder. Alix Popham and Colin Charvis were isolated Welshmen who appreciated that they could tackle tough too.

Popham scored a try at the base of a pushover scrum after 33 minutes, which began the process of eating into a Fijian lead built upon three lavish tries by Akapusi Qera, Vilimoni Delasau and Kele Leawere.

It ought to have been the cue for the Welsh forwards to play it tight but, whether through a lack of maturity or perhaps poor coaching, they failed to do so.

Instead it was the "Welsh Way" -- adopted but certainly not invented by Jenkins -- which brought three Wales tries in six minutes early in the second half, two of them while Qera was in the sinbin for kneeing Stephen Jones on the fringe of a maul. Swift and accurate passing into space brought scores for Shane Williams, Gareth Thomas -- his 40th Test try on his 100th appearance -- and Mark Jones. With a couple of conversions by Stephen Jones they led by four points.

But Fiji had a handy seven out of nine kiciking contribution rate from fly-half Nicky Little, who would end the game in hospital with a knee injury likely to rule him out of Sunday's quarter-final against South Africa.

With two penalties they were ahead again, 31-29.

There was not a single Fijian newspaper reporter there to see it but the team's coach, Ilie Tabua, said the people at home in the tiny Pacific island nation would have "climbed over mountains to get to a TV to watch this match".

A new Everest loomed when Martyn Williams ran 70 metres for a Welsh interception try after 72 minutes; the flanker should probably have dotted down nearer the posts.

Stephen Jones's conversion hit a post, between him and and James Hook there were missed four kicks.

When the dashing Delasau hurtled toward the Welsh goalline in the 77th minute, and the tackle from Martyn Williams which held the wing up was a classic in its very own right.

But the ball popped up, Graham Dewes, Fiji's loosehead prop, nudged it over the whitewash and with a thumbs-up from the television match official, Wales were out.

"To achieve our goal is an amazing feeling," said Tabua.

"We have always had political problems but rugby unites our nation."

scorers

Wales -- Tries: Popham, S Williams, G Thomas, M Jones, M Williams; cons: Hook, S Jones 2; pen: S Jones.

Fiji -- Tries: Qera, Delasau, Leawere, Dewes; cons:

Little 3; pens: Little 4.

Wales: 15 G Thomas; 14 M Jones, 13 T Shanklin, 12 J Hook, 11 S Williams ; 10 S Jones, 9 D Peel ; 1 G Jenkins, 2 M Rees ), 3 C Horsman, 4 A-W Jones, 5 I Evans, 6 C Charvis , 8 A Popham, 7 M Williams.

Replacements: TR Thomas for Rees, 45; M Phillips for Peel, 57; D Jones for Horsman, 65; I Gough for Evans, 65; M Owen for Popham, 65.

Fiji: 15 K Ratuvou ; 14 V Delasau, 13 S Rabeni , 12 S Bai, 11 I Neivua (Nadroga); 10 N Little , 9 M Rauluni; 1 G Dewes, 2 S Koto (Suva), 3 J Railomo, 4 K Leawere, 5 I Rawaqa, 6 S Naevo, 8 S Koyamaibole (Padova), 7 A Qera. Replacements: S Bobo for Neivua, 52; H Qiodravu for Railomo, 54; N Ligairi for Rabeni, 66; A Ratuva for Qera, 73; V Sauturagafor Koto, 77; J Daunivucu for Little, 80.

Referee: S Dickinson (Australia)

The four main hopefuls to be new Wales boss

Llanelli Scarlets' director of rugby, a job he inherited from Gareth Jenkins after losing a two-horse race to take charge of Wales last year. Technically adept and comfortable with modern coaching methods.

Nick Mallett

Linked strongly with succeeding Pierre Berbizier as coach of Italy now that they too are out of the World Cup, the English-born former Springboks supremo has bags of experience.

Robbie Deans

Former All Blacks assistant and a Super 12 winner with the Crusaders who may have to travel to further career. Favourite among the overseas contenders.

Eddie Jones

Australian ex-Wallaby head coach currently assisting South Africa at the World Cup as technical advisor, while maintaining a consultant's role with Saracens.

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