Ultimately victory and a place in the quarter-finals was secured thanks to a hat-trick of tries from wing Josh Adams who had a remarkable game of high and lows.
Wales went 10-0 down and Fiji were always in the contest. When they grabbed a second-half penalty try a real upset looked possible, but in the end Wales sealed a bonus-point success as Liam Williams added to Adams’ treble. The brutal, tight and entertaining nature of this contest should serve them well for the knock-out stages as both sides had two players yellow carded.
Fiji will head home with their heads held high following tries from Josua Tuisova, Kini Murimurivalu and a penalty score, but they weren’t able to repeat their famous 2007 win over Wales as they tired late on. It meant Wales fans breathed a huge sigh of relief at the final whistle.
Gatland had named a strong side both in a bid to keep his team’s tournament momentum going and in acknowledgement of the danger Fiji possessed in their ranks.
The Pacific Islanders kept Wales waiting for kick-off, but started with a bang as lock Leone Nakarawa delivered one superb offload and Gareth and Jonathan Davies produced poor kicks.
Wales were penalised for offside following the second of those and Fiji took a scrum, spreading the ball wide to Tuisova who barged off the covering Josh Navidi to produce a sensational corner finish.
Navidi had a Welsh response ruled out for a Hadleigh Parkes knock on while Fiji also had a second chalked off – rightly – for a forward pass by Viliame Mata.
After giving the ball, No 8 Mata was upended by Wales’ Ken Owens who was yellow carded. Given rugby’s crackdown on dangerous tackles, Owens was fortunate not to see red.
Fiji capitalised immediately with a man advantage. The ball was spread right and full-back Murimurivalu crashed over in the same corner as Tuisova.
Adams had missed poor tackles in the run-up to both Fiji tries and when Wales finally got possession, he inexplicably knocked on to cap an atrocious start.
The breathless action continued. Fiji’s Tevita Cavubati was yellow carded for charging into a ruck with his forearm and Wales duly hit straight back with their first bit of possession.
A series of tight carries laid the platform from where Biggar cross-kicked to Adams who did well to leap high above Ben Volavola – who had missed both Fiji conversions – to score.
Dan Biggar showed Volavola how it should be done from the tee.
Adams’ whirlwind first half continued as he dived for the corner, but was judged by the TMO to have a foot in touch as Frank Lomani did just enough to prevent the try.
The cards kept coming, Fiji’s Semi Kunatani the next to go for a breather after his team were penalised for offside. Again, Wales capitalised with their scrum dominant.
With numbers out wide, quick hands sent Adams over for his second in the corner. Biggar converted.
Wales had played too openly and given Fiji early encouragement – the two things they had said they wouldn’t do in the build-up. Still, they did go to the break 14-10 to the good. The chaotic nature of the game continued in the second period. If there is one thing Fiji thrive on it is chaos.
Gatland’s men were certainly playing with fire. Poor Welsh tactical kicking and a refusal to tighten up their game plan gave Fiji further cause for joy and James Davies was yellow carded for not rolling away. Fiji kicked to the corner and drove forward, referee Jerome Garces awarding a penalty try for Wales collapsing the maul worth an automatic seven points.
Williams poleaxed team-mate Biggar as both men went for a high ball forcing the Wales fly-half off for a second head injury assessment in as many games.
Rhys Patchell was his replacement and immediately nailed a monster penalty to tie the scores.
With his team under the pump, Wales centre Jonathan Davies then stood up to be counted. Davies is a world class centre and he produced a moment of class fitting that description to give Adams his hat-trick. Receiving the ball from Patchell, Jonathan Davies first carried hard and shrugged off Jale Vatubua. Then with the Fiji defence covering, his outrageous offload sent Adams over for his hat-trick. It was far from an easy finish, but Adams did the rest. Patchell missed the conversion.
Jonathan Davies and Adams were both forced off with injuries suffered in the try, but Wales now had a lead to defend and a fly-half in Patchell who was controlling the game nicely.
Finally, Gatland’s men put the game to bed. Ross Moriarty crashed forward following some loose play and Gareth Davies combined with Williams to send the full-back over.
Patchell converted and Welsh supporters could at last relax.