Louis Rees-Zammit mimicked Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal-scoring celebration as he scored a try to help Wales to a bonus-point 28-8 victory over Portugal on Saturday for a second World Cup win in tricky Pool C.
A Wales team featuring 13 changes from their gripping opening 32-26 win over Fiji withstood some whirlwind Portuguese attack in the first 30 minutes in Nice before notching up the victory in just the second meeting between the two countries.
It continued Wales’ impressive pool phase record under coach Warren Gatland. They have won their past six successive matches, and 12 of their past 14 pool games since 2011, with their only two losses coming against South Africa in Wellington and Australia four years later.
“It wasn’t pretty but we got the job done in the end,” said Gatland.
“Obviously a few guys were a little bit rusty, not having played together for a while so we’ll take the ‘W’ (for win) and move on.
“In fairness to Portugal they put us under pressure, they moved the ball and I was impressed with them.”
Wales hooker Ryan Elias added: “It was massive for us to get that fourth try there, Portugal were a difficult team to break down.
“We gave too many cheap things to Portugal but they were physical and they kept at it until the end,” Elias told S4C.
After Samuel Marques missed an early penalty, it was Rees-Zammit who set the Stade de Nice alight, touching down with a trademark opportunistic try to open the scoring.
Man-of-the-match Jac Morgan, a late starter after Tommy Reffell was injured in the warm-up, did well to drift wide and half-draw the last defender before feeding the winger who grubbered the ball past Rodrigo Marta down the line, then gathered to dot down.
Ever the showman, Rees-Zammit jumped to his feet and mimicked Portugal football star Ronaldo’s ‘Siuuu’ goal-scoring celebration.
Halfpenny converted as the game went from end to end, Tomos Williams and Christ Tshiunza both producing tackles that stemmed the Portuguese wave.
Impressive Faletau –
Veteran Taulupe Faletau confirmed why Gatland rates him so highly, the No 8 corner-flagging brilliantly to haul down Nicolas Martins after a smart step and searing break by full-back Nuno Sousa Guedes.
Halfpenny was then also on hand to nullify an attack, again with the line a-begging, before Portugal at least got on the scoreboard through a Marques penalty.
Centre Johnny Williams, who spent 10 minutes in the sin bin for needlessly playing the ball on the floor, spilled the ball as he crashed over the Portugal line thanks to a great combined tackle from props Anthony Alves and Francisco Fernandes.
But captain Dewi Lake made amends from the resulting penalty, driving over for Wales’ second try, also converted by Halfpenny to make it 14-3 at half-time.
Marques missed a penalty early in the second half before Wales turned the screw through their power-based forward game, Morgan burrowing over for the third Welsh try.
Halfpenny made no mistake from the kicking tee and suddenly Portugal, whose sole World Cup appearance also came in France, in 2007, were well on the back foot.
Rio Dyer came up with a great tackle to bundle Raffaele Storti into touch as the replacement threatened in the Welsh 22m area.
Marques spurned a shot at the posts to go for a deep touch and, against the run of play, it paid off as Martins crossed for an unconverted try from a smart front peel move off the line-out.
Gatland had complained bitterly about Wales’ “dumb decisions” around game management in the last quarter against Fiji, allowing the South Sea Islanders to come right back into the game.
But there was no last-minute drama in Nice despite a Gareth Davies try being ruled out for obstruction and Portugal winger Vincent Pinto red carded after making contact with Josh Adams face with his boot when collecting a high ball.
It looked like Wales might miss out on a bonus point that could prove to be crucial in a pool that also includes Australia and Georgia, two teams that beat Wales in the November internationals.
But the impressive Faletau barrelled over from a five-metre scrum for a fourth try to pile the pressure on the Australia versus Fiji match on Sunday.
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