Wales get back to work against Fiji after long layoff
One win from their last two pool games will give Gatland’s team a quarterfinal berth
Oita — A relaxed and confident Wales have been an island of calm amid the maelstrom of a World Cup as they gradually close their yawning gap between pool matches, but it is back to work on Wednesday when they take on Fiji in Oita.
Since fending off Australia in Pool D’s heavyweight clash on September 29, Warren Gatland’s side have had eight days to decompress, even as rivals have toiled and drama unfolded on pitches around Japan.
Unbeaten after two matches with their top pool foe subdued, the Six Nations champions can afford to stop and smell the roses, with victory in one of their last two games against Fiji or Georgia assuring them of a quarterfinal berth.
Wins in both would naturally be preferable as they would guarantee the Welsh the pool’s top spot and a potentially easier route through the knockout rounds.
With that in mind, Gatland has named a near full-strength team, making only two back-row changes from the starting 15 that helped set up the epic 29-25 win over the Wallabies at Tokyo Stadium.
The Flying Fijians are no slouches, after all, and they head into the match with proper momentum from their 45-10 thrashing of Georgia, which followed a disappointing loss to Australia and a shock by Uruguay.
Welsh fans have another reason to feel on edge, however. Many harbour bitter memories of the 2007 World Cup in France where the Fijians upset Wales 38-34 in one of the most thrilling matches in the tournament’s history.
The “nightmare in Nantes” saw Wales eliminated while putting Fiji through to their second World Cup quarterfinal and first since 1987.
Japan have already produced a couple of boilovers, with the hosts’ win over Ireland chief among them, so Wales’ staff have been on high alert for complacency creeping in.
“It highlighted what Fijian rugby is all about,” Wales assistant coach Stephen Jones said of the 2007 stunner. “Give them space and time and they move the ball well and have an offloading game and put you under pressure.
“They did that day and scored some wonderful tries.”
In a huge boost for the Welsh, flyhalf Dan Biggar has recovered from the head injury sustained against Australia and will start in the No 10 jersey. He was instrumental in getting Wales off to a flying start against the Wallabies, slotting a drop goal in the opening minute before he was forced off the field near the half-hour mark.
Gatland said he wants Wales to produce another quick start to dent the Fijians’ confidence, lest they settle, build momentum and run away with the game with a feast of tries.
“It is important that we start well on Wednesday and hopefully take a little bit of that excitement away from Fiji,” Gatland told reporters on Monday. “They are dangerous, so we’ve got to make sure we shut their space down and shut down their time on their ball.”