WALES moved top of World Cup Pool A after claiming a third successive win that left host nation England one defeat away from elimination.
Although Wales triumphed 23-13 at the Millennium Stadium, they were made to sweat profusely by a Fiji side that enjoyed scrummaging supremacy and consistently threatened a major World Cup upset.
In the end, tries by outstanding scrum-half Gareth Davies and hooker Scott Baldwin – plus 13 points from stand-off Dan Biggar’s ultra-reliable right boot – edged Wales home.
Fiji replied through a brilliant Vereniki Goneva try, while stand-off Ben Volavola booted a conversion and two penalties.
It means that England must beat Australia at Twickenham tomorrow – a bonus-point draw would also keep them afloat – or they will face the humiliation of exiting their own World Cup after just 15 days.
Wales, though, have by no means secured a safe quarter-final passage themselves, and their fate could boil down to a Twickenham showdown with Australia on Saturday week if England beat the Wallabies and then claim an expected five-point maximum against Uruguay.
That situation would have been alleviated to a degree had Wales collected a bonus point, but the ferocity of Fiji’s display meant there were times when not even victory could have been taken for granted.
Wales ultimately dug deep and even though Biggar gingerly left the action seven minutes from time, there were no apparent fresh injury setbacks.
The opening five minutes were played at a madcap pace, with Wales immediately making their intentions clear through a superb George North break before the forwards battered away at Fiji’s line.
Although Fiji initially held out, it could not last, and Wales went ahead through a seventh-minute touchdown from Davies when he threw a dummy pass to Fiji’s last line of defence before crossing unopposed.
Biggar added the conversion but Fiji established early set-piece supremacy before opening their account through a Volavola penalty.
A Biggar penalty made it 10-3 and then a superb break by the same player ultimately freed Tyler Morgan in space. And when Morgan was tackled short, Baldwin picked up to crash over.
Another Biggar conversion made it 17-3, but a second successful Volavola penalty as a direct result of Welsh scrummaging problems cut the deficit to 11 points at half time.
Warren Gatland’s men needed to assert authority early in the second period but it was Fiji who grew in confidence on the back of a dominant scrum. And they breached Wales’ defence in spectacular fashion, cutting loose from deep when wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma sprinted clear, and a stunning move ended with Goneva touching down, before Volavola converted.
Wales desperately had to calm things down, and that influence predictably arrived through Biggar, who landed a long-range penalty for his 12th successful World Cup kick from 12 attempts. Another Biggar penalty opened up a ten-point advantage and Fiji finally had no reply.
SCORERS: Wales: Tries: G. Davies, Baldwin. Cons: Biggar 2. Pens: Biggar 3. Fiji: Tries: Goneva. Cons: Volavola. Pens: Volavola 2.
Wales: M. Morgan, Cuthbert, T. Morgan, Roberts, North, Biggar, G. Davies, Jenkins, Baldwin, Francis, B. Davies, Jones, Lydiate, Warburton, Faletau. Subs: Hook for M. Morgan (72), Priestland for Biggar (73), Jarvis for Jenkins (67), Owens for Baldwin (56), Lee for Francis (53), Charteris for B. Davies (65). Not Used: Tipuric, L. Williams.
Fiji: Talebula, Nagusa, Goneva, Botia, Tikoirotuma, Volavola, Kenatale, Ma’afu, Koto Vuli, Saulo, Cavubati, Nakarawa, Waqaniburotu, Qera, Talei. Subs: Matavesi for Goneva (71), Murimurivalu for Botia (77), Seniloli for Kenatale (70), Veikoso for Ma’afu (76), Atalifo for Saulo (77), Soqeta for Cavubati (71), Ravulo for Waqaniburotu (70). Not Used: Ravai.
Referee: J Lacey (Ireland)