5 talking points as overhauled Wales selection face Portugal
Wales play their second game of the Rugby World Cup when they tackle Portugal in Nice on Saturday. After a nerve-shredding victory over Fiji, another bonus-point win would strengthen Wales’ position in Pool C.
Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the main talking points heading into the game.
Wales have immediate momentum
The Fiji fixture in Bordeaux had been on Wales’ World Cup radar ever since the draw was made, with Warren Gatland’s squad knowing that victory over dangerous opposition would put them on a quarter-final course. While they were hanging on at times during the closing stages, Wales got the job done and did it in bonus-point fashion. Another five-pointer should follow against Portugal, setting them up to face Australia eight days later. If Fiji defeat the Wallabies on Sunday in Saint-Etienne, then Wales would be in control of the group.
A glimpse of the future
Wales’ starting line-up on Saturday is littered with players who could provide foundation stones for teams way beyond the current World Cup. Exeter locks Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza are just 20 and 21, centre Mason Grady is 21, wing Louis Rees-Zammit 22 and captain Dewi Lake only 24, highlighting a rich seam of young talent available to head coach Gatland. There are also those that missed the World Cup cut this time around – Max Llewellyn, Tom Rogers and Joe Roberts, among others – who could easily feature in the Six Nations squad later this season, suggesting that promising times lie ahead.
Warren Gatland in his element
The Wales head coach’s body language currently exudes belief and confidence. While he readily acknowledged a fraught final 10 minutes of last weekend’s victory over Fiji, ultimately Wales’ 32-26 success made an immediate statement in the quest to top Pool C. Gatland’s World Cup record shows semi-final appearances either side of reaching the 2015 quarter-finals, providing sustained excellence. And he has the air of someone eyeing not only a repeat performance of four years ago in Japan, but to go even better. It is early days, yet the initial signs could hardly be more encouraging.
Wales cut loose in Lisbon
It is 29 years since Wales and Portugal faced each other, and a one-sided affair played out in the Portuguese capital. After making a World Cup pool exit in 1991, it meant Wales having to qualify for the next tournament. Portugal were despatched 102-11, with Wales running in 16 tries. Wing Nigel Walker scored four of them, while there were hat-tricks for Ieuan Evans and Mike Hall as a Wales team that also included the likes of Neil Jenkins, Robert Jones, Gareth Llewellyn and Scott Quinnell ran riot. Wales successfully finished the qualifying job in Madrid seven days later, seeing off Spain 54-0.
What is Portugal’s World Cup record?
They qualified for the 2007 tournament, which was also held in France, being drawn in a tough group alongside Scotland and New Zealand. The Scots defeated them 56-10, before the All Blacks posted a points century. A 31-5 reversal followed against Italy, before Portugal regrouped impressively and went close to upsetting Romania before they were edged out 14-10. Former France wing Patrice Lagisquet is now their head coach, and recent form has been strong, notably a 46-20 World Cup warm-up win against the United States and a battling loss to Australia A. They qualified for the 2023 World Cup by winning a repechage competition in Dubai.
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