Wales v Fiji

BORDEAUX, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 10: The players of Wales applaud their support after the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Wales and Fiji at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux on September 10, 2023 in Bordeaux, France. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

The Stats Show It . . . Kick, Chase, Tackle Wales Are Tough To Beat

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From Hamish Stuart in Nice

Warren Gatland wants Wales to be “hard to beat” and they should certainly prove too hard for Portugal on Saturday.

At least there was no mourning the morning after the night before against Fiji in the opening game.

It was not a dawn of hangovers for Welsh rugby fans in Bordeaux – either literally or metaphorically.

A 9pm kick off, 50-minute queues for beers in the ground and waits for shuttles to and from the Stade de Bordeaux, meant that even those in fine form and voice by mid-afternoon had to start again in the small hours.

But most importantly, Wales won.

Improbably, possibly unfairly, given the drama of the final few minutes, but they are now firm favourites to get out of their group.

As Dan Biggar said afterwards, the most important thing was the result and they got it.

They can read the debates about whether Semi Radrada would have scored, whether the conversion would have gone over, whether Biggar himself deserved a yellow card and penalty try, with all the detachment of a millionaire talking about the cost-of-living crisis.

Wales know what to work on this week, probably anything other than tackling following their World Cup record number against Fiji.

But what of the Welsh fans who travelled in their thousands by mini-bus, motorhomes, train and by car.

Without rugby, the poor Wales fans have been forced onto wine-tasting trips or sampling French food in the squares and pavement cafes.

So how to get their rugby fix through a long afternoon of sampling the local atmosphere, once the quotes have been digested?

In our case, the obvious thing to do on the bank of the Garonne River was to go through the match stats from the weekend to see what could be gleaned.

We have dealt with the tackle count, but what else is there? Fiji dominated almost every main area of the game – territory, possession, except for the surprising one of offloads, Wales had one more, and turnovers.

Nine turnover tackles, along with half the number of turnovers conceded overall kept Wales in the game when the pressure was fiercest.

The Welsh line-out was near perfect, one lost, one stolen, which has not always been the case.

The stats also show what a huge game one of their smallest players had. Centre Nick Tompkins had the most carries, third most metres made, fourth most passes, fifth most tackles.

He and George North combined well in midfield against a Fijian centre pairing as good as any in the tournament.

So, what does it all mean going forward?

In the tunnels under the stand after the game the Wales players were saying all the right things about not underestimating the threat of Portugal.

However, most would accept the next big game is against Australia, who made the same number of metres as Fiji did against Wales in their victory over Georgia.

The win was easy and the Aussie stats back up that message.

But without getting too arrogant, the victory over Fiji allows others to start looking forward to a quarter-final against England or Argentina.

England kicked 96 per cent of their possession. Maybe after the sending-off of Tom Curry the surprise was the two occasions when they did not kick it.

They are currently kicking the ball more than any other team in the world by a wide margin, including the Summer Series matches.

Wales kicked half as much, passed almost twice as much. You could keep making those comparisons down the list of attack statistics, but that would maybe be unfair given the way England battened down the hatches to win.

But England were strong in the set piece, no line-outs lost, scrum strong with a man down, turnovers and discipline both good.

Those are probably the key stats which show why Argentina could not get a foothold in the game.

But rugby matches are not won by statistics alone, or Fiji would have triumphed. Ford and Earl for England, and Tompkins and Rowlands for Wales, showed those qualities which can change a result.

Some things to ponder while journeying from the land of St Emilion and Haut-Medoc to the Riviera.

An earlier kick off time in Nice with almost certainly something to celebrate after Portugal – the hangovers could return in one way, at least.

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