CARDIFF – They might have been decimated by injury, but Wales will forget all about their unprecedented misfortune if they make it three successive Pool A victories, at the expense of Fiji, in the Millennium Stadium on Thursday (Friday morning FT).
Having arrived at Rugby World Cup 2015 without his irrepressible full-back and goal-kicker Leigh Halfpenny, first-choice scrum-half Rhys Webb and centre Jonathan Davies, coach Warren Gatland has since lost Corey Allen to a hamstring tear and Scott Williams and Hallam Amos to knee and shoulder injuries respectively.
When you add concussion victim Liam WIlliams to the sick list – he should be clear to face Australia next week – you could hardly blame Gatland and Co. for feeling a little sore in the countdown to their penultimate Pool A game in Cardiff.
On the contrary. Without so much as a pout or a quivering bottom lip, Gatland not only spoke in glowing terms of his squad’s resilience and collective spirit, but looked in buoyant mood as Wales went through their final paces at Wednesday’s captain’s run at the match venue.
“We’ve dusted ourselves down and we’re ready to get on with it,” Gatland said.
“Yes, we’ve had some bad luck in terms of the number of injuries, but you won’t see anybody inside the camp making any excuses. One door closes and another door opens. There is an opportunity for the new players to come in and make their mark.”
There were certainly no excuses at RWC 2007 when Fiji won, for the only time in 10 games against Wales dating back to 1985 when Wales ran out 40-3 winners at Cardiff Arms Park.
Wales, on that occasion, in Nantes, shot themselves in the foot by taking on the Pacific Islanders at their own unstructured game.
It was a points fest that Fiji won 38-34 after Wales had recovered from being 25-10 down at half-time to lead in the final quarter.
In the end, the Fijians won the day and left Wales to lament a defeat that cost cach Gareth Jenkins his job.
Gatland, who took over at the helm shortly after, will resist the temptation of a similar approach against a team whose hopes of qualification all but disappeared when they failed to pick up a bonus point in either one of their opening two games against England and Australia.
Instead, Gatland will demand that his same-again forward pack dominates at the set piece and plays with rhyme and reason behind the scrum where the halves pairing of Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar again will be key.
The only other time the sides have met in a World Cup, came four years ago when Wales ran out winners 66-0, in Hamilton.
Although the likes of giant wing Nemani Nadolo and livewire scrum half Nikola Matawalu have been ruled out of Thursday’s potentially explosive showdown under the stadium roof, Wales captain Sam Warburton (pictured) made it clear this week that a repeat performance was certainly not on the cards.
“You can forget about 66-point winning margins,” Warburton said. “They are a very good side, with a much improved set piece and we will need to be at our best to win.”
FINISH ON A HIGH
Fiji will certainly not be too concerned about a full house at the Millennium Stadium where they have run Wales so close – 11-10 in 2005 – and shared 32 points in 2010.
In fact, Wales’ 17-13 win in last year’s autumn series was their biggest margin of victory over the Fijians, on home soil, since the 58-14 victory 13 years ago.
Fiji coach John McKee said: “Of course we are disappointed not to have picked up a point in our first two games and yes, we would love to finish the pool with two wins.
“However, we know the enormity of the task in front of us and will need to be at our very best. Let’s hope we are.”
- World Rugby