BORDEAUX - Wales opened their Rugby World Cup 2023 campaign with a nail-biting 32-26 win over Pool C opponents Fiji in front of 41,274 mostly Welsh supporters at Stade de Bordeaux.
Josh Adams scored an early try for Wales but Fiji hit back with scores from captain Waisea Nayacalevu and flanker Lekima Tagitagivalu before George North's try helped Wales into an 18-14 half-time lead.
Louis Rees-Zammit collected Jac Morgan's cross-kick to extend Wales's lead and after Levani Botia knocked on over the line, Elliott Dee's converted try with 13 minutes left - after a yellow card for Fiji's Lekima Tagitagivalu - put Wales 32-14 clear and seemingly out of sight.
But Fiji refused to lie down and Josua Tuisova's score sparked a late onslaught, Peni Ravai having a score ruled out for a double movement before Mesake Doge crossed with two minutes left, and only a Semi Radradra knock-on in the dying seconds allowed Wales to cling on.
Fly-half Dan Biggar, the Mastercard Player of the Match, admitted the nerve-shredding finale was "absolutely exhausting".
"The last 10 minutes felt like the clock never moved," he said. "We put everything into it, Fiji came strong at the end, but I’m really thrilled for this group of players that we managed to see it through because the work we’ve put in over the past few months has just been incredible.
"It puts us in such a good position in the group. I’m just absolutely drained."
Wales coach Warren Gatland was delighted by victory but felt his side "made it a lot harder for ourselves than we needed to".
"We made some dumb decisions in the last 15 minutes," he said. "We’ll have a thorough review that we need to go through … some of the discipline and stuff … I’m a little bit angry about a few things, but the positive is we won.
"I thought we were in control of the game but we know what Fiji are like and what they’re capable of, and we lost a bit of composure.”
Such was the relentless pressure that Wales were under, they made well over 200 tackles, three times as many as Fiji.
“We take a lot of pride in that," said captain Jac Morgan. "We knew they would keep on coming. That’s what we did and we came out on top in the end.”
Wales next face Portugal in Nice next Saturday, 16 September, while Fiji must pick themselves up before tackling Australia in Saint Etienne a day later.
“It’s a tough one," said captain Waisea Nayacalevu, who scored the first of Fiji's four tries, earning them a second bonus point. "We are really disappointed because we put a massive amount of effort in and credit to the boys, we worked hard until the end.
“That last pass, man…it’s quite hard but we have got to learn from that and move on to next week.”
Flying Fijians head coach Simon Raiwalui said his side made "too many mistakes". "We were just not clinical enough," he added. "We had two or three try-scoring opportunities and we had two disallowed - we have got to take our chances."