Preview: Wales v Fiji
WORLD CUP POOL MATCH: Wales will look to ramp up their performance to another level against Fiji on Wednesday, amid constant reminders of their costly loss to the Pacific islanders in the 2007 World Cup.
A late try to Fiji 12 years ago and Wales crashed out of the tournament while still in pool play.
It was a shock result that is now the stuff of legends in Fiji, and an ongoing nightmare in Wales where there were instant repercussions, with coach Gareth Jenkins sacked immediately.
Then flyhalf Stephen Jones is now Wales assistant coach and has been hammering home the message that they cannot afford to ease up.
“It’s a huge disappointment when you get knocked out in the group stages,” he recalled.
“It highlighted what Fijian rugby is all about. Give them space and time and they move the ball well and have an offloading game and put you under pressure,”
After wins already in Japan over Georgia (43-14)and Australia (29-25), a shock loss to Fiji would not this time end the tournament for Wales, but it would make it harder for them to claim the top spot in Pool D.
Although they have already beaten their biggest threat Australia, Jones said that performance was not good enough and they have to lift their game.
“Against Australia, first-half we moved some ball quite well but we weren’t as clinical as we’d like to be. Second-half, Australia kept the ball and we were quite limited. From our attacking aspect, we have certainly got factors we need to improve,” he said.
“From a personal perspective, I am fully aware of how good they (Fiji) are. We have got to make sure from an attacking element when we have got the ball we keep the ball.”
‘Challenge and an opportunity’
Head coach Warren Gatland, who has kept most of his first choice line up together for the first two matches, has called for an explosive start “to hopefully take a little bit of that excitement away from Fiji.”
He has also demanded an 80-minute defensive effort, mindful that France were almost tipped over by a strong finishing Tonga on Sunday, and it was a later try that won it for Fiji in 2007.
Gatland said he has stressed why winning the pool undefeated is important regardless of who they will likely play in the quarter-finals – which will be decided by next weekend’s clash between England and France.
“There are a lot of benefits about winning the group in terms of turnaround time and choices of hotels and stuff.
“Psychologically, if you win the group and win your four games, you are up against a team that has lost a game,” he said.
Fiji have only a mathematical chance of making the quarter-finals and their realistic best hope is to finish third in their pool to automatically qualify for the 2023 World Cup in France.
Coach John McKee said the historic 2007 result was “one of the great Fijian performances” and he has been using it to inspire his players.
Fiji played exceptional rugby in their opener against Australia until early in the second half when a 21-20 lead faded to a 39-21 loss and they were then shocked 30-27 by Uruguay before bouncing back to thump Georgia 45-10.
“We see this final pool game as both a challenge and an opportunity, it is important to finish the pool stage on a high note,” McKee said.
Players to watch:
For Wales: Flyhalf Dan Biggar, who failed a head injury assessment during the win against Australia on September 29, will be an important decision-maker. Captain Alun Wyn Jones, the Welsh stalwart, is always a vital component in the team.
For Fiji: Viliame Mata returns at No.8 in place of Peceli Yato, who recovered from a head injury he received in the opening match against Australia to anchor the scrum in the impressive 45-10 win over Georgia. Ben Volavola, who kicked eight points when the teams met in Cardiff in 2015 when Wales won 23-13, retains his place at flyhalf to face Wales for the second World Cup in a row.
Head to head: The battle at flyhalf will be intriguing, Wales Dan Biggar might have his hands full with Fiji No. 10 Ben Volavola, who is currently his team’s top points scorers at this year’s World Cup.
2015: Wales won 23-13, Cardiff (World Cup Pool Match)
2014: Wales won 17-13, Cardiff
2011: Wales won 66-0, Hamilton (World Cup Pool match)
2010: Draw 16-16, Cardiff
2007: Fiji 38-34, Nantes (World Cup Pool Match)
Prediction: If Fiji managed to keep their penalty count down and managed to take full advantage of their opportunities, they could cause major problems. Warren Gatland has picked a strong side that will be up for the challenge and thus Wales suppose to take this by 7 points.
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT 📢
Our lineup for the match against Wales at Oita Stadium on Wednesday
Not much changes from last weeks game, the boys recover well after their last game, and went back to business as they continue to build on the momentum as they prepare to face Wales. pic.twitter.com/UyHgQOozYB
— Fiji Rugby Union (@fijirugby) October 7, 2019
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 James Davies, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhs Carre, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Aaron Shingler, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Owen Watkin.
Fiji: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu, 12 Lepani Botia, 11 Semi Radradra, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Semi Kunatani, 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu (captain), 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Tevita Cavubati, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Samuel Matavesi, 1 Campese Ma’afu.
Replacements: 16 Mesulame Dolokoto, 17 Eroni Mawi, 18 Peni Ravai, 19 Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, 20 Peceli Yato, 21 Nikola Matawalu, 22 Jale Vatubua, 23 Josh Matavesi.
Date: Wednesday, October 9
Venue: Oita Stadium, Oita Prefecture
Kick-off: 18.45 (09.45 GMT; 10.45 UK & Ireland time; 21.45 Fiji time)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)