Flashback: Fiji’s World Cup rollercoaster with Wales

Date published: September 28 2016

In the latest edition of our series, we look back at this week in history and pick out a key moment from rugby’s archives.

For this edition we’re going back to 2007, when Fiji and Wales produced a Rugby World Cup classic to send one side out of the tournament.

September 29, 2007

You know it takes something very special to happen, given we have now had eight Rugby World Cups going back to 1987, for a group stage match to still stick out as one of the greatest the tournament has ever produced.

Fiji's meeting with Wales nine years ago in Nantes however was just that. 

Six days previously Fiji had been well beaten by the Wallabies, and that was after clinging on against Japan and not exactly setting the world alight with their win over Canada.  

By contrast Wales had been competitive enough against Australia – losing 32-20 but far from disgraced, considering the score was 25-3 at the break – and comfortable wins over Japan and Canada were enough to suggest they would make the last eight. Shane Williams managed four tries across those two games.

So what unfolded in the first 20 minutes at the Stade de la Beaujoire came as quite a shock.

Within 25 minutes Fiji's points total was matching the clock – a 25-3 lead suddenly leaving Wales in a cold sweat and facing up to an early exit from the 2007 tournament. Vilimoni Delasau's chip and chase try remains spectacular to watch.

A classic though takes two teams to make it happen, and Wales delivered with their fightback. Alix Popham's score before half-time closed the gap on the scoreboard but it was the wizardry of Shane Williams – sporting a grade one haircut, stepping and accelerating his way to the line from miles back in his own half – that brought the contest back to life.

With Fiji now rattled, Gareth Thomas put Wales in range before Mark Jones handed them the lead for the first time, turning a 25-3 deficit into a remarkable 29-25 swing.

Fiji looked to have found their composure, edging back ahead thanks to two penalties from Nicky Little. But the fly-half loose pass was then snapped up by Martyn Williams, sprinting for the line from within his own half to put Wales ahead once again at 34-31 with eight minutes left.

Step forward Delasau; his loop with Sereli Bobo (three cheers for him) resulting in Wales only managing to stop him inches short of the line. Loosehead prop Graham Dewes did the rest, diving under the legs of Mark Jones to score in the 76th minute. 

Wales still had time for one last twist, only to be turned over at the ruck on the edge of Fiji's 22. Epic doesn't quite do it justice. By the same time the next day, Wales head coach Gareth Jenkins had been sacked.

The scorers:

For Wales:
Tries: Popham, S Williams, G Thomas, M Jones, M Williams
Cons: Hook, S Jones 2
Pen: S Jones

For Fiji:
Tries: Qera, Delasau, Leawere, Dewes
Cons: Little 3
Pens: Little 4
Yellow Card: Qera

Wales: 15 Gareth Thomas (c), 14 Mark Jones, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 James Hook, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Alix Popham, 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Colin Charvis, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Chris Horsman, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Replacements: 16 T.Rhys Thomas, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Ian Gough, 19 Michael Owen, 20 Mike Phillips, 21 Jamie Robinson, 22 Dafydd James

Fiji: 15 Kameli Ratuvou, 14 Vilimoni Delasau, 13 Seru Rabeni, 12 Seremaia Bai, 11 Isoa Coalala Neivua, 10 Nicky Little, 9 Moses Rauluni (c), 8 Sisa Koyamaibole, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Semisi Saukawa, 5 Ifereimi Rawaqa, 4 Kele Leawere, 3 Jone Railomo Taginayaviusa, 2 Sunia Koto Vuli, 1 Graham Dewes
Replacements: 16 Vereniki Sauturaga Racagi, 17 Henry Qiodravu, 18 Wame Lewaravu, 19 Aca Ratuva, 20 Jone Daunivucu, 21 Norman Ligairi, 22 Sireli Bobo

Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)