Preview: Wales v Fiji

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Wales have the chance to secure their passage to the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals as they face Fiji in Oita on Wednesday.

A win would see them jump out of the reach of their opponents, and put them in the driving seat to win Pool D this weekend, but a defeat would see Warren Gatland’s men temporarily drop to third.

It’s been nine days since Wales beat Australia in their second pool game, holding on despite a second half comeback from the Wallabies, having already overcome Georgia in the opening game.

Wednesday’s opponents Fiji obviously spark some nightmares for Welsh supporters who remember the 2007 ‘Nightmare in Nantes’ which saw the Pacific Islanders knock us out of the Rugby World Cup at the pool stage thanks to a 77th minute Graham Dewes try.

However, perhaps less advertised is the fact that Wales have beaten Fiji in the intervening two Rugby World Cup pool stages, beating them 66-0 in Hamilton in 2011 and 23-13 at the Principality Stadium in 2015.

George North Fiji 2015
George North carries against Fiji in 2015

There has also been a 17-13 win in the 2014 Autumn Internationals, but the Flying Fijians are coming into the game on the back of a 10-45 win over Georgia, bouncing back from a shock defeat at the hands of Uruguay.

Fiji coach John McKee makes just one change to his team that beat the Georgians, with Edinburgh number eight Bill Mata replacing Clermont’s Perceli Yato at the back of the scrum.

There is plenty of top flight European experience in the team, with Leone Nakarawa, Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Tevita Cavubati and Semi Kunatani in the loose five playing for Racing 92, Pau and Harlequins, respectively.

Meanwhile in the backs only scrum-half Frank Lomani does not play in the Top14, while there is a familiar face to Cardiff Blues supporters in the front row as Campese Ma’afu packs down at loosehead.

Fiji: Kini Murimurivalu, Josua Tuisova, Waisea Nayacalevu, Levani Botia, Semi Radradra Ben Volavola, Frank Lomani; Campese Ma’afu, Sam Matavesi, Manasa Saulo, Tevita Cavubati, Leone Nakarawa, Dominiko Waqaniburotu (c), Semi Kunatani, Bill Mata

Replacements: Mesu Dolokoto, Eroni Mawi, Peni Ravai, Api Ratuniyarawa, Peceli Yato, Niko Matawalu, Jale Vatubua, Josh Matavesi

Semi Radrada Fiji
Semi Radradra starts on the wing

Warren Gatland also makes changes to his team, with two new faces coming into the back row of the team that beat Australia.

James Davies will start on the openside and Ross Moriarty at number eight, with Josh Navidi moving around to the blindside, as Aaron Wainwright is dropped to the bench and Justin Tipuric rested.

It has been confirmed that Tipuric is fully fit, and will likely start against Uruguay on Sunday, with Moriarty’s ball carrying and physicality preferred against the large Pacific Islanders.

Dan Biggar has recovered from his head injury and completed the return to play protocols so starts at fly-half, while Hadleigh Parkes continues at inside centre despite fracturing a bone in his hand against Georgia.

There is also a change on the bench as Rhys Carre replaces Nicky Smith, with the former Cardiff Blues prop in line to make his Rugby World Cup debut and win just his second international cap.

Wales: Liam Williams, Josh Adams, Jon Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, George North, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Josh Navidi, James Davies, Ross Moriarty

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Aaron Shingler, Aaron Wainwright, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Owen Watkin

Ross Moriarty Argentina
Ross Moriarty starts at number eight

In what is risking serious cliche, Wednesday’s game is going to be a fast and physical encounter up against an attacking and skilful Fiji side that can score from anywhere.

Offloads and disguised passes will be on show in abundance, and for Wales it will be a case of holding shape in defence and scrambling well, as the likelihood is that the opposition will be able to manufacture line breaks at some point.

When we are in possession the kicking game being used well will be key, as will moving the Fijian defence around in a bid to tire out the big men opposite. Then space should open up in the final quarter of the game.

A cracking encounter awaits, with Pool D potentially hotting up or finishing as a contest, depending on the result.

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