Wales face 'judgment time' and sweltering heat against Fiji

Wales warned they face ‘judgment time’ and sweltering heat against old foes Fiji in crunch Rugby World Cup opener…as Warren Gatland ponders big selection calls

  • Wales open their Rugby World Cup against Fiji on Sunday night
  • Fiji have lost fly-half Caleb Muntz to a knee injury on the eve of the tournament
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results 
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results

Wales are set for ‘judgement time’ in their World Cup opener with Fiji but the news their Pacific Island opposition have lost their star fly-half has handed Warren Gatland’s side an advantage. 

Head coach Gatland and his fully fit squad of 33 players will swap the sweltering heat of Versailles on the outskirts of Paris for the equally hot Bordeaux on Thursday and will travel by train. 

It is in Bordeaux that they will take on their old enemy Fiji – a side they have played in the pool matches of every global showpiece since their infamous 2007 defeat in Nantes. 

‘We have been working for 16 weeks towards a goal which is this game,’ said Wales assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys. 

‘We are well aware this is judgement time for us. We feel we are pretty well prepared and we know what’s coming.’ 

Every player in Warren Gatland’s 33-man squad is fully fit ahead of the Rugby World Cup

Assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys has warned Wales face ‘judgment time’ against Fiji

Wales have spent the last two weeks narrowing their focus on Fiji. They have a well-rehearsed plan, but things changed significantly yesterday with news from the opposition camp. 

Caleb Muntz is just 23 and only made his Fiji debut this year.

But the news he has been ruled out of the entire World Cup by a knee injury suffered in training has rocked Simon Raiwalui’s men.

‘On Monday, Caleb sustained a knee injury in a non-contact session and is out of the World Cup,’ Fiji head coach Raiwalu said. 

‘It’s devastating for us as a group and for Caleb. He has worked so hard for the past two years with the Fijian Drua and for Flying Fijians. We feel for him. As a young man he misses the opportunity so close to the World Cup. 

‘We have got 33 players and we have the utmost confidence in them. Once we name the team for the match against Wales we will have utmost faith in whom we have selected.’ 

Fiji – winners over England at Twickenham last month – had come into this tournament in sweltering France as a side widely seen as one capable of shaking up the established order. 

Raiwalu understandably emphasised his faith in the other members of his squad. Wales also downplayed the impact of Muntz’s absence, but the brutal truth is that the player’s injury is good news for Gatland’s team and a hammer blow for Fiji. 

Fiji will be full of confidence after beating England at Twickenham last month

But they have been rocked by news that fly-half Caleb Muntz has been ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury he sustained on Wednesday 

Teti Tela is now close to certain to start at No 10 for Fiji in Bordeaux. Ben Volavola, 32, missed out on Fiji’s initial World Cup squad but can now surely expect a call-up. 

Volavola has just joined Agen as a replacement for Elton Jantjies after his positive drugs test so is in France already. Muntz’s injury also robs Fiji of a reliable goal kicker against Wales. 

‘Relentless – that’s what we have trained to be,’ Humphreys said. 

‘Everybody is a bit on edge but in a good way. It’s been a long time getting here.’ 

So it has. Wales will name their team for Fiji today when they arrive in Bordeaux, where temperatures – like in Versailles – are in the mid-thirties. 

Dan Biggar is expected to start at fly-half against Fiji on Sunday night in Bordeaux

Wales’ last training session in Versailles last night was designed to mimic to a degree the evening kick-off in Bordeaux. Night-time temperatures are still sweltering here. Gatland has insisted he has everyone available to face Fiji. 

In last night’s session, hooker and co-captain Dewi Lake warmed up separately to the main group and Tommy Reffell was not present initially. Gatland faces his big selection calls at scrum-half, inside centre, blindside flanker and prop. 

Nick Tompkins and Johnny Williams are contenders for a centre berth alongside George North while there is a decision to be made between Gareth Davies and Tomos Williams as starting No 9. Davies has trained at scrum-half this week alongside Taulupe Faletau and Dan Biggar who are likely to begin at No 8 and fly-half respectively. 

Davies and Williams are the only two scrum-halves in the Wales squad so both will be involved, but the former’s kicking game might earn him the nod. 

Johnny Williams is a contender for a centre berth alongside George North

There is a feeling Williams may be able to provide a bigger impact from the bench when Wales hope their strong fitness will have tired Fiji out in the Bordeaux heat. 

‘What’s really positive about this group at the moment is there’s going to be a few disappointed players. There’s lots of options for us. You want tough calls,’ Gatland said. 

‘You don’t want to be able to quickly pick your 15 or 23. You want to have robust debate in the coaching group about what you think the best combination should be. 

‘That’s definitely going to happen.’

Source: Read Full Article