Wales cruised into the quarter finals of the 2011 Rugby World Cup with an impressive 66-0 win over Fiji.
In wet and blustery conditions at Waikato Stadium, Wales buried 2007’s shock loss to the Pacific islanders with a nine-try romp to set up a last-eight clash against Ireland, Italy or Australia.
Warren Gatland’s men finish second in Pool D with 15 points from three wins and a narrow, one-point loss to defending champions South Africa, with confidence high and comparatively few injuries heading into next week’s quarter-finals.
And Rhys Priestland and veteran Stephen Jones delivered a perfect kicking performance of all nine conversions and a penalty as Wales made a mockery of the woes which have affected other teams.
“It’s something we have worked very hard at for the last four years and it’s a great feeling to get to the quarter-finals,” said young Welsh skipper Sam Warburton.
“Credit to Fiji, they kept pushing and had a lot of territory, but our defence held firm.
“We played the game well and played in the right areas. We had a few handling errors, but 66 points, you can’t complain about that.”
Fiji captain Netani Talei commented: “It’s upsetting, but at the end of the day we respect the Welsh boys. They deserved the win. They were hungry for it.”
Fiji made wholesale changes after their defeat to Samoa and it showed as slick Wales totted up four five-pointers before the break for the lone bonus point they needed to progress, while amassing a 31-0 half-time lead.
In afternoon drizzle at Waikato Stadium, Wales went ahead after six minutes when 22-year-old captain Warburton gobbled up an overthrown Fiji line-out and Jamie Roberts jinked through Fiji’s midfield to score under the posts.
Apart from occasional forays down the left, Fiji were unthreatening and Wales opened them up with a swift interchange between Roberts and George North on their left to release Scott Williams, who swerved past the last defender to score.
Wales were rampant and another swift move down the right involving Roberts, prop Huw Bennett and Tongan-born number eight Toby Faletau – and a strong hint of forward pass – put 19-year-old North through for their third.
And they sealed the bonus point just before half-time when the impressive North received quick line-out ball and dummied his way through to set up Warburton for a diagonal run to the line.
More pinball passing put Roberts in for his second when North did a swift one-two with Priestland to set up the centre for an easy score.
Replacement hooker Lloyd Burns bagged his first international try and right wing Leigh Halfpenny was the grateful recipient when Fiji’s Albert Vulivuli made a hash of gathering a kick behind the defence and gave him a free run to the line.
Substitute scrumhalf Lloyd Williams caught Fiji’s defensive napping when he darted over for a poacher’s try and centre Jonathan Davies grabbed the ninth and final score in the dying seconds.
The result comes four years after Fiji’s 38-34 upset win in Nantes denied a quarter-final place to Wales, who now go into the knock-outs against the top team in Pool C, which will be decided later on Sunday.