Preview: Wales v Fiji

Date published: September 30 2015

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Eight years after a shock Fiji win led to Warren Gatland becoming Welsh coach the sides meet again in a crucial Rugby World Cup pool game.

In 2007 in Nantes, the Fijians won a thrilling encounter 38-34, costing Gareth Jenkins his job and sending the Welsh crashing out of the tournament.

Following Saturday's win over England, an unlikely loss wouldn't end Wales' hopes, but it would undo a lot of the good work they did at Twickenham.

For that reason Gatland has gone with a near full-strength side, taking into account the horrific run of injuries that have affected the side.

Tyler Morgan is the latest centre to be given a shot, while maverick fly-half Matthew Morgan gets the nod at full-back as Wales try to cope with their latest casualties, Scott Williams and Hallam Amos having been ruled out of the rest of the tournament.

However it may be absences on the Fiji side that prove just as crucial, with Nemani Nadolo suspended and Nikola Matawalu missing with a calf problem.

In his time in charge of Wales, Gatland has never lost to tier two opposition, with the only defeats during that time coming when Rob Howley coached the team against Japan and Samoa.

Fiji are certainly a much better team than they were four years ago, when they were hammered 66-0, but with only pride left to play for, it remains to be seen if they can spring a surprise.

Of course they have had a much longer preparation time, having not played since their loss to Australia in Cardiff a week ago.

In that game they were the side coming off a four-day turnaround so theoretically they should have the upper hand from a fitness standpoint.

That wasn't the case in their opening game against England however, where they faded in the last ten minutes, while Wales did the complete opposite in their comeback win.

Wales have slipped up in games like this in the past, but it's yet to happen under Gatland, and with some key men out, it seems unlikely Fiji will become the first to do so.

Players to watch: 

For Wales: His selection in the squad caused a lot of debate, and it's fair to say Matthew Morgan is a divisive figure in the Wales team. The Bristol playmaker will get his chance at full-back though, and it will be a good test alongside Alex Cuthbert and George North in the back three. His counter-attacking ability isn't in question, but he will have to prove that his decision-making is up to scratch, particularly knowing when to counter and when to take the more conservative option.

For Fiji: With Nemani Nadolo missing, there is more pressure on Fiji's other playmakers to perform on Thursday, including new arrival Timoci Nagusa. The Montpellier winger missed out on initial selection because of a knee injury but has recovered in time and was called into the squad to replace the injured Waisea Nayacalevu. A hugely dangerous strike threat, he will punish any loose kicking from Warren Gatland's side.

Head-to-head: Everyone was salivating over the prospect of Jamie Roberts and Sam Burgess going head to head to last week, but there could be some even more powerful collisions when Roberts takes on Lepani Botia in Cardiff. The La Rochelle centre comes into the side for his first game of the tournament, and will certainly test the Welsh defence. A brutal runner, he produced one of the highlights of 2015 during the Pacific Nations Cup when he battered his way through a number of Tongan forwards on his way to setting up a try back in July. Roberts has seen it all before but Wales will hope he doesn't take too much of a physical beating before the clash with Australia.

Team news: Wales lost three key players in Saturday's win over England, with Scott Williams and Hallam Amos ruled out for the remainder of the tournament, while Liam Williams is not available as he goes through the return to play protocols. As a result Warren Gatland has made three changes, bringing in inexperienced duo Matthew Morgan and Tyler Morgan at full-back and outside centre respectively, while Alex Cuthbert replaces Amos on the wing.

Fiji have some major absentees of their own, with Nikola Matawalu and Waisea Nayacalevu both out through injury. Waisea's wing partner Nemani Nadolo is also missing after picking up a suspension for a dangerous tackle against Australia, meaning a new-look back three that features Aseli Tikoirotuma and recent call-up Timoci Nagusa. Nemia Kenatale comes in for Matawalu at scrum-half, while there is another change in midfield as Lepani Botia starts at 12. In the back Dominiko Waqaniburotu returns at blindside flanker, while Sunia Koto starts at hooker.

Previous results:

2014: Wales won 17-13 in Cardiff
2011: Wales won 66-0 in Hamilton
2010: The sides drew 16-16 in Cardiff
2007: Fiji won 38-34 in Nantes
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: This is clearly a dangerous game for Wales against a refreshed Fiji side, who have one final chance to prove themselves at this World Cup against a top side. Warren Gatland has gone with his strongest possible team, and we think that will be enough against a Fiji team missing a couple of key players. Wales by 10!

The teams:

Wales: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Aaron Jarvis, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 James Hook.

Fiji: 15 Metuisela Talebula, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Vereniki Goneva, 12 Lepani Botia, 11 Aseli Tikoirotuma, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Nemia Kenatale, 8 Netani Talei, 7 Akapusi Qera (c), 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Tevita Cavubati, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Sunia Koto, 1 Campese Maafu.
Replacements: 16 Viliame Veikoso, 17 Peni Ravia, 18 Leeroy Atalifo, 19 Nemia Soqeta, 20 Malakai Ravulo, 21 Henry Seniloli, 22 Joshua Matavesi, 23 Kini Murimurivalu.

Date: Thursday, October 1
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 16:45 local
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Mathieu Raynal (France)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)

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