By Lobsang DS Subirana
Sports Desk, Sep 10 (EFE).- South Africa began their Rugby World Cup defense in style Sunday in France as they contained Scotland’s free-flowing attack, while Wales were given a late scare by the Flying Fijians’ flair following a resurgent comeback that fell just meters away from culmination.
The Springbok forwards’ power proved too strong for a Scotland team that tried in every way to destabilize South Africa’s methodical play, until the pressure took its toll on captain Jamie Ritchie’s men in Marseille.
South Africa contained their opposition to their own half for the majority of the first 40 minutes, with a territory game that Scotland absorbed effectively to begin with.
Star player Finn Russell pulled the strings for the Scots, trying to play at speed and giving his team width in attack, with his recital of daring passes trying to find speedster Darcy Graham in the wide channels.
Yet for all their attacking intent, it was the Boks who led 6-0 at the change of ends, due in part to fly-half Mannie Libbok’s erratic kicking.
Russell capitalized on a penalty just after the restart to keep the scores closer, perhaps predicting that South Africa were about to turn the screw, with former World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph Du Toit crashing over the line following a slew of pick-and-go’s for the match’s first try.
This coincided with Libbok finding his touch with the boot, as he produced a sensational try assist with a no-look dink to Kurt-Lee Arendse, who sped away on the right wing to score in the corner, extending a final 18-3 lead that Scotland would never claw back.
In Bordeaux, Wales made a 32-26 bonus-point winning start to their campaign, which won’t reflect the levels of nervousness they endured until an uncharacteristic knock-on from Fijian star player Semi Radradra ended a match they were just meters short from losing.
Coach Warren Gatland’s men made the better start, with Welsh winger Josh Adams scoring in the corner after a slew of phases that began with veteran outside center George North breaking Fiji’s defensive line in the midfield.
But Simon Raiwalui’s side answered in kind when North’s opposite number Waisea Nayacalevu picked up a loose ball in midfield to cut an angle that caught the Welsh defense by surprise and sped away to make it one try apiece.
And he wasn’t done, as the midfielder began a quintessential Fijian attack just moments later, offloading to Radradra, who danced his way past the Wales defense to find flanker Lekima Tagitagivalu, who touched down across the line for his team’s second try in four minutes.
As if competing with Nayacalevu, North then capitalized on a sustained spell of Welsh pressure in Fiji’s five-meter line and hit a short line off a ruck to score under the posts. Fiji kept pressuring throughout the half, even testing experienced fly-half Dan Biggar’s patience as he chided his team for their poor decision making at the stroke of half time.
It was Wales who came out the hungrier side the second half, as captain Jac Morgan produced some of his own flair by hitting a 30-meter cross-field kick unlikely of a flanker to put young winger Louis Rees-Zammit through for another try.
Then, with less than 15 minutes to go and a man advantage due to Tagitagivalu’s yellow card just moments earlier, Elliot Dee barged over from a driving maul to seemingly put the score beyond reach.
But Fiji, whose traditionally weak set piece has been an improved revelation under Raiwalui, made use of their lineout to pressure Wales in the last 10 minutes, as imposing substitute Josua Tuisova scored from close range following a sustained passage of play under penalty advantage. Then, in another brilliant four-minute spell, they scored again through Mesake Doge.
It meant the Flying Fijians had two minutes to seal yet another would-be famous world cup victory over Wales. Biggar, from the stands, had his head in his hands. The clock went red, Fiji advanced, they played 12 phases. They made the five-meter line. They created the space. They gave it wide to a lone Radradra; but fate was cruel to the talismanic center. EFE