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Taxi for Jenkins after just one loss too many.

There have been some grim times in the history of Welsh rugby - the weekend just gone ranks up there with them all.

At half-time on Saturday, when Wales were trailing Fiji 25-10, Gerald Davies looked up to a friend in the stand above him. He shook his head in disbelief.

The image was to prove just one of many that summed up the ignominy and desperation of what would prove the last day of Gareth Jenkins' troubled 16-month regime.

Others stuck in the mind though. None more so than the sight of Wales players standing shellshocked by the side of the pitch after the final whistle, as all around them the Fijians danced a deserved jig of delight.

After celebrating their victory the South Sea Islanders went to church on Saturday evening. Perhaps it was Wales who should have been seeking redemption.

Jenkins predictably spoke about avoiding "knee-jerk reactions" when asked about his future following the failure to reach the knockout stages.

But even he must have known it was all over for him.

If his record of just six wins in 20 attempts wasn't bad enough, humiliation on the biggest stage of them all just brought the whole mess into much sharper focus, his infamous "judge me on the World Cup" call echoing loudly in the darkness.

Yesterday the Welsh Rugby Union finally made the judgement that the majority of the public had made some time ago.

The powerbrokers concluded that Wales, with as talented a group of players as it has had since the 70s, has plumbed to unacceptable depths in rugby terms and that the descent couldn't be allowed to go on any longer.

When you're given the easiest group of all the home nations, when two of your pool games are at home - including the decisive one against Australia - and you still can't qualify for the quarter-finals, well, then it really is time to pack up and go home.

And yesterday, that's precisely what Jenkins did, surely privately admitting that World Cup performance left him little option.

His Wales team stuttered against Canada, blew a huge opportuinty in defeat to the Wallabies, struggled against Japan in the first half before cutting loose and then lost for the first time in history to Fiji.

It doesn't get much more damning than that and as soon as the Fijian debacle ended, it was always going to be a question of when, not if.

But nobody could have envisaged Jenkins' final exit would have arrived this weekend.

I sat at a dinner table with around 10 other journalists on Friday night and to a man they all predicted a Welsh win.

The general consensus was that Fiji would give Jenkins' men one or two scares, but that there was only going to be one winner come the end. Fitness and set-piece superiority would, we all said, tell.

But the theory was blown out of the water just 26 minutes into the game, by which time Fiji led, incredibly, 25-3, having gone over for three tries.

The backdrop to the Welsh disaster was indiscipline, poor decision-making, missed shots at goal - Stephen Jones hit the post three times and James Hook was wide with a simple chance before half-time - as well as the age-old failure to react to the changing circumstances of the game.

So dominant was the Welsh scrum in the opening 10 minutes, with Chris Horsman pulverising Graham Dewes, that the red shirts should have realised that victory lay for once in going from set-piece to set-piece and gradually wearing Fiji down.

Instead they never capitalised on that department and attempted to take their opponents on either out wide, or running into contact around the fringes.

Wales didn't have the confidence or execution to do the first part often enough, nor the physicality to pull off the second.

It said it all that two of the three tries they scored in their third quarter purple patch came when Fiji were down to 14 men because of the sin-binning of otherwise outstanding flanker Akapusi Qera for a knee on Stephen Jones.

Even Martyn Williams' late interception touchdown arrived while Qera was prostrate on the floor being treated for severe cramp.

Nine points went begging from missed shots at goal, but there's no doubt that in the arm-wrestle, Jenkins' men were stunned by the aggression and strength of the Fijians.

Time and again white shirts got over the gain line because Welsh tacklers couldn't nail them with first-up hits.

Alix Popham had a go on a number of occasions and his bravery was commendable. But he came off worse more often that not, even if he should be applauded for coming back for more.

But it was among the backs where Fiji really caused havoc.

Leicester centre Seru Rabeni was imperious and right wing Vilimoni Delasau gave one of the performances of the World Cup, grounding a brilliant chip and chase try in the 19th minute and making his pace and stature count all afternoon.

Towards the end he seemed to be almost toying with the Welsh defence, goose-stepping into contact and relying on his change of pace as the element of surprise. But Wales had been knocked out of their stride long before the closing stages.

After lock Kele Neaware's try had established a 22 point lead before half an hour was up, the pre-match favourites were amazingly turning down three-point opportunities by kicking penalties to touch.

And when the normally so reliable Hook squandered an easy chance in front of the posts on the stroke of half-time, it said it all about how flustered he and the rest of the team had become.

The great pity is that the demise of Wales probably ended up giving the tournament as a whole a real shot in the arm.

Saturday's match would have been engrossing for neutrals, the best match of the World Cup so far with tries galore and a cliffhanging television official's decision awarding Fiji the crucial score.

Shame that it was such a ghoulish spectacle for the red clad hordes who spend so much money backing their team, though credit to those who stayed on at Stade de la Beaujoire to applaud the players as they made a somewhat apologetic trip around the field to acknowledge their backing.

You have to wonder just how many trips to Marseilles will be cancelled this week, but you also know that any true Welsh fan would happily forego a week in the sun to see their team recover to the kind of form that characterised the Grand Slam of two years ago.

We've been here before. Post World Cup soul-searching, coach sackings, and all manner of calls for this and that. Nobody does crises better than Wales do they?

The one consolation is that there are players with enough ability to turn this whole sorry business around.

With a new direction, a new voice, a new coach, you just hope that they start doing that straight away.

Most of them probably need a November Test match against South Africa like a hole in the head right now, but come the late autumn what odds the Welsh game will once again be brimming with the optimism of a new era?

Who knows, there could even be another Great Redeemer.

On the evidence of events of this weekend, Wales might well need one.

the agony and the ecstasyGareth Jenkins, above, talks to the media. Left, Wales show their dejection while Fiji, right, celebrate. Below, Graham Dewes burrows over for the decisive score.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 1, 2007
Words:1259
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