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Wales have claimed they are recharged and ready to go as they target a place in the World Cup quarter-finals. Ten days after the Welsh toppled Australia and took charge of Pool D, the Six Nations champions tackle Fiji in Oita.
Victory over a team they have beaten at the last two World Cup tournaments will secure a last-eight spot before their final group game against Uruguay next Sunday. Wales have not topped their pool with a 100 per cent record since the inaugural World Cup 32 years ago, but they are firmly on course to achieve that feat.
Josh Navidi is one reason for them to believe that feat is possible, the Wales back row forward classing World Cup-winning New Zealand coach Steve Hansen and England players among his many admirers. But Navidi admits he would probably not have believed anyone four years ago who predicted him being part of Wales’ World Cup squad in Japan.
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The 28-year-old Cardiff Blues player has become a pivotal cog in Wales boss Warren Gatland’s finely-tuned machinery. Navidi has won 14 of his 21 Wales Tests, and his versatility is underlined by him switching from No8 to blindside flanker against the Fijians. He has also worn the No7 shirt and captained Wales, with Gatland readily acknowledging his considerable ability.
“He runs hard, tackles hard, does the basics well and doesn’t make many mistakes,” Gatland said. “I remember speaking to John Mitchell (England defence coach) after we played England at home, and he said that the England boys have a lot of respect for him as a player. That to me is recognition of quality.
“A few years ago – I think it was one of Josh’s first games when we played the All Blacks – and Steve Hansen said: ‘where did you get that No7 from? We are very lucky in that department. We have some real quality loose forwards who are all capable of doing a job, and there is some real competition there.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 7, 2019
Navidi went four years between winning his first and second caps, but he is now arguably one of the first names on Gatland’s team sheet. “It’s been crazy,” Navidi said. “A couple of months ago I did take a step back and think about it. If you had said to me fours ago that I would be playing in this World Cup, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.
“It is nice to be here embracing it and taking the opportunity. Hopefully, I can just keep the jersey and keep on playing. It has gone well. I know the jersey can be taken off you so quickly, so I just have to embrace it. You have to take it when you can and hold on to it for as long as you can.”
Navidi’s immediate thoughts are on Fiji, when he partners back row colleagues James Davies and Ross Moriarty, knowing that a victory in Oita would confirm Wales’ quarter-final place one group game inside the distance.
Wales have succumbed to Pacific Island opposition in three World Cups and this Fijian side have enough firepower to make Warren Gatland nervous. Complacency is not an option, says @OwainJTJones https://t.co/5FmcPGlXeB
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 7, 2019
“They [Fiji] like a frantic and open game,” he added. “We have just got to concentrate on ourselves and make sure our set-piece and everything is right, and all our patterns are there. A lot of people know him (Davies), and he is a massive threat over the ball and in attack as well.
“He is a bit of a character, he does tuck a few of the boys up. He had me. He is a good boy to tour with. It is good to have him here. Liam (Williams), him and Brad (Davies) are on tour entertainment. They did a thing where we had to guess whose tweet it was, and it was about the 2015 World Cup. It came up, and I thought it couldn’t be me, but it was, so I had to do a forfeit.”
Navidi has had plenty of family support in Japan, with his parents watching on, while his brother – a hairdresser who has two salons in Bridgend – has proved a cut above as far as the Wales players are concerned.
“My brother was over here for about two weeks,” Navidi said. “He came in and did the boys’ haircuts to freshen them up for the Australia game, but now they are struggling to find a barber, so there might be a few wild haircuts. The boys are saying they will pay for his ticket to come back.”
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