Fiji head coach John McKee has made just one change to his side that ran out 45-10 victors over Georgia last week for their upcoming clash against Wales.
The match acts as Fiji’s final pool match for the tournament, and although their hopes of making a second-ever quarter-final appearance have been nullified after losses to Australia and Uruguay, they could make life troublesome for the Welsh as they eye top spot in Pool D.
Warren Gatland’s side need two wins from their final two group matches over the coming week to secure their place at the summit of the pool ahead of the Wallabies.
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However, with the talent evident in McKee’s side for Wednesday’s encounter, the reigning Six Nations champions will need to have their wits about them if they’re to avoid a repeat of their catastrophic 38-34 pool stage loss to Fiji at the 2007 World Cup, which cost them a place in the last eight.
The only alteration to the Flying Fijians’ starting side comes at No. 8, with Olympic gold medal-winner Viliame Mata replacing star loose forward Peceli Yato, who drops to the bench.
That means the likes of Josua Tuisova, Semi Radradra, Dominiko Waqaniburotu and Waisea Nayacalevu have all been retained following their standout showings against Georgia, which should complicate proceedings for Wales.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 6, 2019
Waqaniburotu, in particular, was one to have caught the eye of McKee, with the skipper named to start his fourth pool match of the tournament.
“Dominiko is certainly a player who leads from the front and is highly respected among the group,” McKee said.
“I know that for our players, when Dominiko is out there, he gives them a real lift because he is such a high work-rate player. He often doesn’t get the same accolades as some of our other players, who get involved in the more dynamic parts of the game.
“He was certainly one of our best against Georgia, just with his work-rate, on his ball carries and his cleanout work around the breakdown, which is going to be essential for us in this game.”
Waqaniburotu’s presence in the back row alongside Mata, who has returned to full fitness after sustaining a calf strain, and Semi Kunatani will be vital if Fiji are to emulate their nation’s success against Wales from 12 years ago.
The battle at the breakdown between both sets of loose forwards is something that McKee is wary of and highlighted that as his side’s biggest threat to attaining a result in Oita in two days’ time.
“We’ve looked at Wales closely and we can see what a strong side they are around the breakdown,” he said.
“One of the closest battles will be around the breakdown. Wales certainly look to attack the ball on the carriers and either try to win turnovers or slow the ball up.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 7, 2019
“That is going to be a critical area for us, firstly to make sure we get good continuity and that secondly we are effective enough to get quick ball.”
In the reserves, a further two changes have been made, with injury call-up Lee-Roy Atalifo coming out of the match day in place of Eroni Mawi, while Mesulame Dolokoto is named as the replacement hooker ahead of Tuvere Vugakoto.
A win for the Fijians would guarantee them third place in Pool D, which would secure the Pacific side automatic qualification for the 2023 World Cup in France ahead of both Georgia and Uruguay.
Even if they lose, third place is still a realistic outcome given the vast unlikelihood of either Georgia or Uruguay accruing competition points their respective opponents – Australia and Wales – in their final pool matches this week.
Kick-off is scheduled for 6:45pm (local time) at Oita Dome on Wednesday.
Fiji side to play Wales:
1. Campese Ma’afu
2. Samuel Matavesi
3. Manasa Saulo
4. Tevita Cavubati
5. Leone Nakarawa
6. Dominiko Waqaniburotu (capt.)
7. Semi Kunatani
8. Viliame Mata
9. Frank Lomani
10. Ben Volavola
11. Semi Radradra
12. Lepani Botia
13. Waisea Nayacalevu
14. Josua Tuisova
15. Kini Murimurivalu
16. Mesulame Dolokoto
17. Eroni Mawi
18. Peni Ravai
19. Apisalome Ratuniyarawa
20. Peceli Yato
21. Nikola Matawalu
22. Jale Vatubua
23. Josh Matavesi
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