Warren Gatland lays down challenge to much-changed Wales squad against Portugal
Louis Rees-Zammit has underlined Wales’ “game by game mentality” as they target a second successive Rugby World Cup victory that would strengthen their quarter-final ambitions.
Wales, fresh from a thrilling bonus-point victory over Fiji, tackle Pool C minnows Portugal on Saturday.
“We got the win (against Fiji), which was the main thing, but there is a lot to improve,” Rees-Zammit said.
“We’ve got Portugal next and we know they have got great backs, so it’s going to be a tough game.
“We have got a game by game mentality, and that is our focus. You can’t slip up.
“We respect Portugal. We know they have got some great backs, so we are going to have to train hard this week and get the job done.”
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has made 13 changes to the starting line-up, with only wing Rees-Zammit and number eight Taulupe Faletau remaining from last weekend.
Co-captain Dewi Lake leads Wales after recovering from a knee injury, while scrum-half Tomos Williams wins his 50th cap and there are first World Cup starts for the likes of centre Mason Grady, plus Exeter locks Dafydd Jenkins and lock Christ Tshiunza.
Lake suffered a knee problem during Wales’ World Cup warm-up game against England, but he now returns to pack down alongside front-row colleagues Nicky Smith and Dillon Lewis, and fly-half Gareth Anscombe is also back after injury.
At the age of 34 years, eight months and 26 days, Halfpenny will become the oldest back to play a World Cup game for Wales, surpassing Shane Williams, who was a month younger against Australia in Auckland 12 years ago.
Prop Henry Thomas is the only player in Wales’ 33-strong World Cup squad who will not have started or been named on the bench across the first two games.
Wales’ bonus-point success against Fiji has set them up for a repeat performance against Portugal, who are the Pool C minnows.
They are at their first World Cup since 2007, although their pre-tournament form has been reasonable, including a 46-20 victory over the United States.
Gatland said: “We’ve made a few changes this week given the six-day turnaround.
“This is an opportunity now for this matchday 23. I have said before, but there is some great competition within the squad, which is what we want to see.
“There is a chance now for this group to go out on Saturday and to put down their own marker in the tournament.
“We’ve done a thorough debrief of last week’s game and know the areas we need to improve.
“We have a clear plan of how we want to play on Saturday, and it is about going out there and executing that as we have prepared.
“Portugal are a skilful side and will be raring to go this weekend in their first match of the tournament. We are excited to get back out there.”
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