Preview: Wales v Fiji

Date published: October 1 2011

Wales require just one point from their Pool D clash with Fiji to make it through to the last eight of the Rugby World Cup.

Win or lose, Wales require just one point from their Pool D clash with Fiji to make it through to the last eight of the Rugby World Cup for the first time since 2003.

The Welsh are level with Samoa on ten points in the group, but because the islanders failed to bag a bonus point in Friday's 13-5 defeat to South Africa, Wales are in prime position to reach the World Cup quarter-finals as runners-up.

They only way Wales will be denied a place in the knockouts is if Fiji managed to win by 62 points. They would then go through as runners-up on points difference, while Samoa would advance if Fiji scored four tries and won by at least 39 points but fewer than 62.

Though I think it's safe to say that neither of those scenarios will happen.

Wales however will cast a wary eye over the Flying Fijians as they seek to avoid the nightmare of 2007, when the flamboyant Pacific islanders dashed their World Cup hopes at the very same stage of the competition.

Four years ago, Welsh quarter-final ambitions foundered in France when they tried to match Fiji's running game and were hit by a late Graham Dewes try to lose 34-38 in their final pool game.

And last November, there were red faces in Cardiff when Fiji held Wales to a 16-16 draw, reinforcing the theory that the Welsh are vulnerable to Pacific sides after their twin World Cup upsets to Samoa.

But Wales have already seen off Samoa in Hamilton, and whilst there are only a handful of survivors from Nantes – revenge will be on the cards for the Welsh who are under no illusions about the task ahead.

“When you look at the world-class players they have and their ability to play rugby, their off-loading skills and their momentum, they're very good rugby players,” said Wales assistant coach Rob Howley.

“It keeps your feet on the ground having had that experience back in France. It's not a bad thing, in terms of the Welsh psyche.

“Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and we think we're better than we are. But we realise how good this Fiji side are and they showed that (in 2007).”

Fiji's defeat to Samoa ended their hopes of back-to-back quarter-finals but the team is looking to end a difficult World Cup on a high.

After cruising past Namibia in their opener in New Zealand, Fiji were hammered 49-3 by the Springboks and then produced a flat performance in falling to a disappointing 27-7 defeat by rivals Samoa.

At the very least, the Fijians want to leave a better impression on World Cup fans than what they showed in the hidings inflicted by South Africa and Samoa. Against the Springboks, Fiji were competitive, but the manner of the defeat to Samoa in front of 60,000 at Eden Park left a bitter taste.

“We love playing Wales. The second-last time we beat them and last time we drew with them at their home ground. We're well aware of that,” said regular skipper Deacon Manu, who has been rested and left out of Fiji's matchday 22 for this match.

“They won't take us lightly now, so we've got to be prepared for a challenge and make sure we finish on a high. We need to get things right tactically. We need to play in the right areas and have a good mix.”

Fiji retained only five players from the loss to Samoa and handed the captaincy to number eight Netani Talei. Wales, meanwhile, have made seven changes from the side that thrashed Namibia 81-7.

Ones to watch:

For Wales: Towering speedster George North, who became the youngest try-scorer in World Cup history (19 years and 166 days) in Wales' rout of Namibia, starts on the wing and will no doubt be looking to add to his try-scoring tally at the tournament.

For Fiji: Michael Tagicakibau, who wasn't picked to play his brother, Samoa winger Sailosi Tagicakibau, in Auckland, will make his World Cup debut on the left wing. Tagicakibau, who stands at 1.94m and weighs 94kg, now gets a golden opportunity to weave his magic out wide.

Head to head: Fiji's veteran fly-half and goal-kicker Nicky Little will be playing his 14th World Cup match and attempting to join an elite group of players who have scored points at four separate World Cups. Thus far only Brian Lima, Gareth Thomas and Gareth Rees have managed it. Standing in his path will be Rhys Priestland, who gets another bite at the cherry after riding pine for Wales last time out. Another solid outing from him, and veteran Stephen Jones looks set for bench duty come the quarter-finals.

Previous results:
2010: Drew 16-16 in Cardiff
2007: Fiji won 38-34 in Nantes (RWC)
2005: Wales won 11-10 in Cardiff
2002: Wales won 58-14 in Cardiff
1995: Wales won 19-15 in Cardiff
1994: Wales won 23-8 in Suva
1986: Wales won 22-15 in Suva
1985: Wales won 40-3 in Cardiff

Prediction: Fiji will make their opposition sweat, but we think the Welsh will get to the finish line quite easily in the end. Wales to win by 14 points.

The teams:
Wales: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 George North, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Leigh Halfpenny, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Ryan Jones, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Lloyd Burns, 17 Paul James , 18 Alun Wyn Jones, 19 Andy Powell, 20 Lloyd Williams, 21 Stephen Jones, 22 Jonathan Davies.

Fiji: 15 Iliesa Lomani Rakuka Keresoni, 14 Albert James Vulivuli, 13 Ravai Susau Fatiaki, 12 Gaby Lovobalavu, 11 Michael Tagicakibau, 10 Nicky Little, 9 Vitori Tomu Buatava, 8 Netani Edward Talei (c), 7 Sakiusa Matadigo, 6 Rupeni Nasiga, 5 Wame Lewaravu, 4 Leone Nakarawa, 3 Setefano Somoca, 2 Sunia Koto, 1 Waisea Nailago.
Replacements: 16 Viliame Veikoso, 17 Campese Ma'afu, 18 Akapusi Qera, 19 Mala Ravulo, 20 Nemia Kenatale, 21 Seremaia Bai, 22 Vereniki Goneva.

Date: Sunday, October 2
Kick-off: 18:00 (05:00 GMT)
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Stuart Terheege (England)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)