Wales v Fiji: Can hosts overcome 2007 World Cup nightmare?

By Ross HarriesScrum V presenter
Fiji players celebrate their 38-34 win over Wales at the 2007 World Cup
Fiji players celebrate their 38-34 win over Wales at the 2007 World Cup
Autumn internationals: Wales v Fiji
Venue: Millennium Stadium Date: Sat 15 November Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One, BBC One HD, online, mobiles and BBC Sport app from 14:00 GMT; live commentary on BBC Radio Wales, Radio Cymru & online; updates on BBC Radio 5 live; text commentary on BBC Sport website and mobiles.

It is a truism in life and in sport that one man's triumph is another man's disaster.

Those who played in red have spent seven years trying to forget it. Those who played in white have spent seven years keeping the memory alive.

Fijian fly-half Josh Matavesi revealed on last week's Scrum V that they still play highlights of that game on the team bus.

As Wales coach Warren Gatland curtly reminded the media on Tuesday, when the nations met in the World Cup four years later, the Welsh took revenge in ruthless fashion, winning 66-0. That, he said, is his side's reference point, not the defeat in Nantes that happened under somebody else's watch.

But in sport, we cling on to these triumphs. They become part of our narrative.

Wales' victory over England at Wembley in 1999 is one such example. It was an unlikely win, by a single point, but it helped to salve an open wound caused by a decade of misery against the red rose.

Fiji will undoubtedly invoke the spirit of Nantes in 2007 during the build-up to Saturday's Test.

Wales' autumn Tests
Saturday, 8 November: Wales 28-33 Australia - report
Saturday, 15 November: v Fiji (14:30 GMT)
Saturday, 22 November: v New Zealand (17:30 GMT)
Saturday, 29 November: v South Africa (14:30 GMT)
All games to be played at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

If it was a historic moment in Fijian rugby history, it was a seismic moment in Welsh rugby history.

That defeat ushered in the Gatland era, which now rivals the 1970s as Wales' most successful period. Had they not fallen to defeat that day, perhaps the Grand Slams and Championships that followed would never have materialised.

Gareth Thomas captained Wales that day, winning his 100th and last cap for his country. It wasn't how he envisaged bowing out of international rugby, but he recently admitted that Wales were their own worst enemy, allowing themselves to be sucked into a Barbarians style of rugby in which Fiji naturally thrived.

"They were on form that day and then pushed South Africa very close. And South Africa went on to win the tournament," said Thomas.

It was a cautionary reminder, if we needed one, that Fiji should never be underestimated.

The reason they thrive in sevens is because they revel in its unstructured nature. Flair and instinct are more valuable commodities than scrummaging technique or lineout finesse. If a 15-a-side game becomes loose, there is perhaps no better side in the world than Fiji in exploiting open space.

Every player, regardless of the number on his back, can pass, run, kick, step and dazzle. That is why Tom Shanklin - another victim of 2007 - sums up the game plan thus: "Target the scrum, target the lineout, don't kick loose… make sure that it doesn't turn wild."

Nikola Matawalu
Glasgow and Fiji player Nikola Matawalu can play at scrum-half or on the wing

So the Fijian set-piece is still its Achilles heel? Not necessarily.

A glance at the stats from last week's game against France tells you that their scrum and lineout functioned perfectly. They had the put-in at seven scrums and won them all. They had seven lineouts and won them all.

So set-piece superiority may no longer be a given. And one reason why is that all bar one of the squad for Saturday play their rugby outside of Fiji.

Most now ply their trade in the Pro12, Aviva Premiership, French Top 14 and Super 15, and are thus exposed to the best coaching, conditioning and facilities rugby has to offer.

Individually, they can boast some of the best players in the world. Nemani Nadolo for example, was joint top try-scorer on this year's Super 15 tournament with 12 in 14 games. Only Australian superstar Israel Folau could match him.

And regular viewers of the Pro12 will be aware of the game changing talents of Glasgow's Nikola Matawalu, or the strength and solidity of Matavesi at the Ospreys.

But you can always counter a stat with a stat, and Wales' set-piece also operated at 100% against Australia last weekend.

The Welsh will not been unduly concerned about Fiji's apparent improvement up front, but they will be wary of a back division containing the top try scorer from this year's Super 15, the top try scorer from last year's Aviva Premiership (Vereniki Goneva), and the top try scorer from last year's Top 14 (Metuisela Talebula).

That's a pretty potent strike force. Keep them quiet, and you'll keep Fiji quiet, and the 2007 defeat will be pushed a little further back into the recesses of our memory.

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