RWC: Match Preview: Fiji – Wales

A crucial bonus point against South Africa gives Wales breathing space ahead of their final pool match against Fiji in Hamilton today, 6pm local time. The Welsh sit five points ahead of Fiji and have a far superior points differential than their recent rivals, meaning that Fiji would not only need a bonus point victory to snatch a quarterfinal spot but would also have to win by a very convincing margin. Wales have the added luxury of playing in coach Warren Gatland’s beloved home town and have shown excellent form throughout the tournament, making them easy favourites to qualify ahead of the unpredictable Islanders. Fiji will look to the previous World Cup for inspiration – in which they beat a stunned Welsh side 38-34 in a stunning match that saw them sneak into the playoffs – however the task ahead is another proposition altogether against a team that looks to finally have shaken its Pacific Island hoodoo at the World Cup.

Wales field a strong side as they look to build momentum ahead of an expected match against the high-flying Irish in the next round. Rhys Priestland retakes the hotly contested spot from veteran Stephen Jones, while an impressive hat-trick on debut earns Scott Williams a second start at centre alongside Jamie Roberts. Teenage prodigy George North starts on the right wing as Shane Williams recovers from a thigh strain. Former captain Ryan Jones lines up at blind-side flanker alongside his youthful successor Sam Warburton with Dan Lydiate still out, while Gatland is finally able to give his preferred front row combination of Adam Jones, Huw Bennett and Genthin Jenkins a long-awaited start.

Fiji have rung the changes after a poor performance against Samoa in what in all likelihood is their last match of the 2011 tournament. Five changes to the pack include a change of captain; with deacon Manu missing from the squad altogether, hulking No.8 Netani Talei is given the honour from the back of the scrum. The backs also make five changes, with veteran fly-half Nicky Little and inside centre Gaby Lovobalavu the only two players to retain their spots as coach Samu Domoni looks to inject a burst of freshness into the squad.

Players to Watch:

Jamie Roberts was immense against both South Africa and Samoa; rested for the Namibian blowout, he will look to secure his spot with another bruising performance against the physical Fijian back-line.

Michael Tagicakibau has seen little rugby since injuring both of his shoulders when the two countries last met in November. The winger comes from good rugby stock, with brother Sailosi impressing for rivals Samoa; the younger variant will be bursting at the seams to show his own skills after watching from the sidelines for most of the tournament.

Wales: 15-Lee Byrne, 14-George North, 13-Scott Williams, 12-Jamie Roberts, 11-Leigh Halfpenny, 10-Rhys Priestland, 9-Mike Phillips, 8-Toby Faletau, 7-Sam Warburton (c), 6-Ryan Jones, 5-Luke Charteris, 4-Bradley Davies, 3-Adam Jones, 2-Huw Bennett, 1-Gethin Jenkins.
Reserves: Lloyd Burns, Paul James, Alun-Wyn Jones, Andy Powell, Lloyd Williams, Stephen Jones, Jonathan Davies.

Fiji: 15-Iliesa Keresoni, 14-Albert Vulivuli,13- Ravai Fatiaki, 12-Gaby Lovobalavu, 11-Michael Tagicakibau, 10-Nicky Little, 9-Vitori Buatava, 8-Netani Talei (c), 7-Sakiusa Matadigo, 6-Rupeni Nasiga, 5-Wame Lewaravu, 4-Leone Nakarawa, 3-Setefano Somoca, 2-Sunia Koto, 1-Waisea Nailago.
Reserves: Viliame Veikoso, Campese Ma’afu, Mala Ravulo, Akapusi Qera, Nemia Kenatale, Seremaia Bai, Vereniki Goneva.