Wales ease into quarter-finals
Huw Baines at Waikato Stadium
October 2, 2011
Roberts runs in the first try of the match
© Getty Images
Wales crushed Fiji 66-0 at Waikato Stadium on Sunday to round off Pool D, firing a warning shot to their knock-out rivals and laying to rest the ghosts of their infamous defeat to the Islanders in 2007.
Despite being assured of their place in the last eight due to South Africa's victory over Samoa on Friday, Wales were all business in Hamilton and Fiji struggled to live with their outstanding defence and razor-sharp attacking game.
Charged with emulating Samoa's dogged performance and Tonga's huge upset of France, Fiji fell well short of expectations and never looked likely to seriously trouble a Welsh outfit that exhibited none of the naivety of four years ago.
Wales' miserly defence will have left a smile on the face of coach Shaun Edwards, but their healthy band of fans were left thrilled by a new-found attacking edge, exemplified by the outstanding George North.
The Scarlets winger bagged one of nine Welsh tries - a haul that puts them behind just the All Blacks and Wallabies in the tournament scoring chart - and had a hand in several others.
Cardiff Blues centre Jamie Roberts crossed for a well-deserved brace while his centre partner Scott Williams notched try number four for the campaign. Skipper Sam Warburton, wing Leigh Halfpenny and replacements Lloyd Burns, Lloyd Williams and Jonathan Davies also found the chalk to leave little doubt about the threat posed by this side in the latter stages.
One possible bugbear for Warren Gatland will be his side's penalty count, but the former Waikato hooker has crucially reported no fresh injuries prior to next weekend's quarter-final, likely to be against Ireland, in Wellington.
Wales displayed a clinical streak a mile wide in the opening period, plundering four tries and a 31-0 lead despite Fiji claiming a hefty chunk of territory and their fair share of possession. The Islanders brought their heavyweight forwards into the line whenever possible but were unable to produce anything of note due to numerous handling errors and Wales' dominance at the scrum.
Roberts opened the scoring after just five minutes, carving through some shoddy defence after Fiji had failed to claim a lineout on their 22, and fly-half Rhys Priestland added the first of five successful first-half kicks, with four conversions complemented by a 20th minute penalty.
Wales' second try was a slick blindside move engineered by North and finished by Scott Williams - scorer of a hat-trick in last week's record win over Namibia. The Scarlets centre skinned the final defender to score next to the posts, rewarding some gritty defence from his side after they had momentarily been sucked into a loose game by the Fijians, who had only a missed penalty from Nicky Little to show for their efforts.
North picked up where he left off to add a third try, scored after another well-worked move along the shortside. Bennett provided a star turn with the link play, dummying right and left before offloading to Toby Faletau, and North raced away to cross under the sticks without a hand laid on him.
Wales completed a confident spell with the bonus-point try on the stroke of half-time and again North was at the heart of their work. Loose lineout ball fell kindly to the 19-year-old Scarlet and his injection of pace committed fullback Iliesa Keresoni. Like all good opensides, Warburton was there in support and the skipper showed his pace to finish with ease.
Fiji admirably began the second-half at a hundred miles an hour, but their renewed vigour was resisted by a Welsh defence shaping up as one of the finest in the tournament. Having soaked up immense pressure in their own 22 Gatland's side again found a cutting edge through North, who chimed in with a sparkling break from deep to create try number five. The winger charged to within five metres, traded passes with Priestland and put Roberts over for his second.
Fiji maintained intense pressure either side of a close-range try to Wales' replacement hooker Burns on 59 minutes but their most promising move ended with Halfpenny scoring a breakaway try. Leone Nakarawa exploited a rare rash move to break the Welsh line but after his support man was turned over, Halfpenny hacked clear and won the foot-race for his first World Cup try.
As the rain lashed across the field Wales turned to their forwards, and in particular their scrum, for their next mark on the scoreboard. The lively Lloyd Williams - who now has two in two after a debut try against Namibia - exploited a huge midfield gap off a five-metre scrum eight minutes from time, leaving Davies to score from the final play after a neat break from halfback.
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Huw Baines is a freelance rugby journalist