Saturday, September 29, 2007

Fiji rugby - wow!

Fiji beats Wales. Amazing! The story is as follows:

Fiji restore rugby's wow factor
Fiji versus Wales was one of the greatest games in rugby history - and it ended with the ideal result.
Andy BullSeptember 29, 2007 6:18 PM

Can I just say wow? Over and over and over again. Surely this was the best World Cup game since the France v New Zealand semi-final of 1999, certainly it was the best match of this tournament so far, and without doubt it was the best game of rugby I've ever seen in the flesh.

Apparently there were 37,080 in the Stade de la Beaujoire to see it. Really? It felt more like 370,800. In the future, when you add up the numbers of people who claim to have been there to see it, you'll probably get a number 10 times larger than that again - it was one of those games.

I'm typing this a minute after the whistle. How long we had to wait to hear that whistle. Three minutes of injury time that felt like an age. The Welsh are in a huddle, struggling to comprehend what has just happened to them. The Fijians are in a huddle too, leaping, screaming and shouting. Around them the crowd are on their feet, roaring their approval, and even the many thousands of shocked Welshmen are applauding.

This was a game that rugby romantics dream about, free flowing and utterly absorbing, settled in the final minute of normal time by a nearly imperceptible try that had to be played and replayed on the big screen before it was given. A quick look down at my pad shows that my notes at that moment read: 'Try! Try! Try! Try!'

So the Welsh are going home. They are standing in silence 30 yards in front of me while the Fijians complete a lap of honour. They are about to be presented with medals to recognise their participation in the World Cup. Thanks, well done, you can go home now.

It's too cruel for them, and it will almost certainly cost Gareth Jenkins his job. Three times Stephen Jones watched his kicks at goal bounce back off the post and into play: the margins can't get any narrower than that, and while they will never use poor luck as an excuse, they could be forgiven for wondering what else they could have done.

But this just had to be. The Cup has been a triumph for the smaller teams throughout, but all those close results, those heroic performances, were about to come to nought. We were expecting a selection of familiar nations, including Argentina, to make up the final eight. The IRB - lead by the RFU, remember - are giving serious thought to cutting the Cup back to 16 teams in 2011. I thought it was a good idea until I came out here and saw the thing unfold over the last month.

Fiji had been saving this performance up all tournament. They were spectacular.

There is something about spontaneous rugby, when it goes right, that makes it one of the most breathtaking sights in sport. The rapidity of thought, action, and decision-making are just marvellous. The ball moves so fast that your eyes can barely keep track, and every foot-shuffle, drop of the shoulder and deceptive swing of the hips catches you and everyone else by surprise.

It's like the sensation you get when you're running too fast down a rocky hill, your feet are moving too quickly beneath you and you can't quite fathom how your brain and body are stopping you from tumbling head over tail. They just do. You have just enough control, and at the same time you're oh-so-close to falling.

That was how Fiji played today. For 20 minutes they took Wales out of the game. The faces of the Welsh journalists around me were ashen, pallid. The fans were struck into silence and the players, where were the players? There only seemed to be holes and gaps where red jerseys were supposed to be.

And then, with Fiji a man down, Wales played some brilliant stuff of their own. Three tries came in 12 second-half minutes, every one a gem. Shane Williams' 60-yard break vied with Vilimoni Delasau's chip and chase for the single best piece of individual play I've seen on a pitch through the pool stages.

Suddenly it was a one-point game with 30 minutes to play. Crucially, in Nicky Little the Fijians have a superb goalkicker. His two penalties kept them in the match. Martyn Williams's interception was surely enough to win the game... Fiji had just been denied a score of their own. But no, not today. Fiji were too inspired and too determined.

This was their first ever win over Wales, and they've a history that stretches all the way back to that famous 28-22 defeat in Cardiff in 1964. Ever since these two sides have played some of the most exciting rugby in the game, and today they contested one of the most memorable matches in the Cup's history. That will be small consolation for Wales, where the recriminations will go on and on, but, sorry for them as I am, I'm still smiling. For me this was the best possible result in the best possible game.


nzm said...

What a game - I was screaming at the TV - especially in the last minutes when Wales got the penalty!

Awesome game - one of the best that I have ever seen. The ball hardly went out of play which minimised the lineouts.

Hope that Nicky Little is ok, but it didn't look good when he went down.

The match against the Boks will be good if Fiji can work on strengthening their scrums - the Boks will surely capitalise on their weakness in this area.

The Fiji boys are so good at staying on their feet in the mauls - that's when they get so much possession.

Go Fiji!!!