Wales v Fiji - Teams and prediction
PREVIEW: Wales open their World Cup campaign with a tricky Pool C match against a Fiji side brimming with confidence in Bordeaux on Sunday.
Wales coach Warren Gatland said victory would give his team “the momentum that could lead them into the quarterfinals”.
Defeat, though, would leave the losers struggling to recover with Australia and a robust Georgia also in the same group.
This is the fifth time Wales and Fiji have met in the sport’s quadrennial showpiece.
Fiji have won just the once but it was their memorable 38-34 pool victory in Nantes in 2007 which knocked Wales out of the tournament.
Gatland’s message – Don’t panic
At the 2019 World Cup, Fiji came out all guns blazing and led 12-0 after 15 minutes with the Welsh also reduced to 14 players due to a sin-binning.
Wales held their nerve, however, and eventually won 29-17.
Fiji are a stronger team now and the Welsh appear a diminished force. But the message from Gatland to his players is draw on the 2019 experience and don’t get rattled even if the Fijians score early points.
“Fiji can start well, and especially hurt us if they get inside our 22,” said Gatland.
“We just need to keep calm, be clear on what we want to do and respect our game plan.”
Josh Adams, the leading try scorer at the 2019 World Cup, echoed the views of Gatland adding it was important this time to not be caught napping.
“I think the importance of us understanding what we need to do, especially early on is important to our execution,” said Adams, who scored three tries in the 2019 win over Fiji.
“It’s about being excellent at what you’re doing as well because with this Fiji team and how good they have been, anything below excellent might not be enough.”
Gatland guided Wales to two World Cup semi-finals in his first spell in charge but he faces a gargantuan task this time round to make it three.
Gatland surprised many in agreeing to return as head coach last December when fellow New Zealander Wayne Pivac was fired.
He has had to contend with several of the players who were the backbone of the side he guided to those semis, and to three Six Nations Grand Slams, retiring as well as with no noticeable upturn in results.
However, there is no doubting he is one of the great coaches of the modern era and his ability to galvanise the players is a significant weapon in the team’s armoury.
In co-captain Jac Morgan and Louis Rees-Zammit he has two formidable young talents mixed in with the experience of Taulupe Faletau and George North.
Gatland, who turns 60 on September 17, appears relaxed even if he confesses the nerves will be showing come kick-off on Sunday.
“I always get nervous before games,” he said. “If I wasn’t nervous I would be a little bit worried.”
A more rounded Fiji
Fiji are crowd pleasers due to their astonishing ball handling skills and ability to fashion tries from inside their own half.
However, head coach Simon Raiwalui says that since he took the post, after Vern Cotter surprisingly resigned in February, they have been working on other areas.
Their work paid off with a historic 30-22 win over England at Twickenham last month.
“Wales obviously have a very good tactical game, kick and chase, the set-piece, so they’ll be looking to put pressure on some of those areas,” said Raiwalui.
“But we’re a different Fijian team, we’ve worked on certain areas that have traditionally been a weakness for us so it’s going to be a good challenge.”
That is not to say this will be a Fijian side shorn of its blockbuster entertainment element.
“One of my catchphrases is play like a Fijian,” said Raiwalui.
“So traditionally that’s the offloading, the quick touch, the one touch, aggressive ball carriers, the contact, our set-piece.
“So that’s what I’ve really pushed, to play like a Fijian.”
@rugby365com: Fiji by five points.
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 George North, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Jac Morgan (captain), 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Gareth Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Dafydd Jenkins, 20 Tommy Reffell, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Sam Costelow, 23 Rio Dyer.
Fiji: 15 Ilaisa Droasese, 14 Selestino Ravutaumada, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu (captain), 12 Semi Radradra, 11 Vinaya Habosi, 10 Teti Tela, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Lekima Tagitagivalu, 6 Albert Tuisue, 5 Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, 4 Isoa Nasilasila, 3 Luke Tagi, 2 Samuel Matavesi, 1 Eroni Mawi
Replacements: 16 Tevita Ikanivere, 17 Peni Ravai, 18 Mesake Doge, 19 Temo Mayanavanua, 20 Levani Botia, 21 Simione Kuruvoli, 22 Josua Tuisova, 23 Sireli Maqala
Date: Sunday, September 11
Venue: Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux
Kick-off: 21.00 (19.00 GMT, 20.00 UK & Ireland time; 07.00 Monday, September 11, FJT)
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)