OITA (Japan): Wales will look to ramp up their performance to another level against Fiji today, amid constant reminders of their costly loss to the Pacific islanders in the 2007 World Cup.
A late try to Fiji 12 years ago and Wales crashed out of the tournament while still in pool play.
It was a shock result that is now the stuff of legends in Fiji, and an ongoing nightmare in Wales where there were instant repercussions, with coach Gareth Jenkins sacked immediately.
Then fly-half Stephen Jones is now Wales assistant coach and has been hammering home the message that they cannot afford to ease up.
“It’s a huge disappointment when you get knocked out in the group stages,” he recalled.
“It highlighted what Fijian rugby is all about. Give them space and time and they move the ball well and have an offloading game and put you under pressure.”
After wins already in Japan over Georgia (43-14)and Australia (29-25), a shock loss to Fiji would not this time end the tournament for Wales, but it would make it harder for them to claim the top spot in Pool D.
Although they have already beaten their biggest threat Australia, Jones said that performance was not good enough and they have to lift their game.
“Against Australia, first-half we moved some ball quite well but we weren’t as clinical as we’d like to be. Second-half, Australia kept the ball and we were quite limited. From our attacking aspect, we have certainly got factors we need to improve,” he said.
“From a personal perspective, I am fully aware of how good they (Fiji) are. We have got to make sure from an attacking element when we have got the ball we keep the ball.”
Head coach Warren Gatland, who has kept most of his first choice line up together for the first two matches, has called for an explosive start “to hopefully take a little bit of that excitement away from Fiji.”
He has also demanded an 80-minute defensive effort, mindful that France were almost tipped over by a strong finishing Tonga on Sunday, and it was a later try that won it for Fiji in 2007.
Gatland said he has stressed why winning the pool undefeated is important regardless of who they will likely play in the quarter-finals — which will be decided by next weekend’s clash between England and France.
“There are a lot of benefits about winning the group in terms of turnaround time and choices of hotels and stuff. Psychologically, if you win the group and win your four games, you are up against a team that has lost a game,” he said.
Fiji have only a mathematical chance of making the quarter-finals and their realistic best hope is to finish third in their pool to automatically qualify for the 2023 World Cup in France.
Coach John McKee said the historic 2007 result was “one of the great Fijian performances” and he has been using it to inspire his players.
Fiji played exceptional rugby in their opener against Australia until early in the second half when a 21-20 lead faded to a 39-21 loss and they were then shocked 30-27 by Uruguay before bouncing back to thump Georgia 45-10.
“We see this final pool game as both a challenge and an opportunity, it is important to finish the pool stage on a high note,” McKee said. – AFP