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Warren Gatland on why Dewi Lake won't feature in RWC opener

By PA
Dewi Lake of Wales receives attention to an injury during the Summer International match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on August 12, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Warren Gatland says that Wales are “in a good place” as they prepare to launch their Rugby World Cup challenge against Fiji.

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Gatland, taking charge of his fourth World Cup as Wales head coach, has been boosted by the return to fitness of 100-cap number eight Taulupe Faletau.

He will make his first Wales appearance since last season’s Six Nations after recovering from a calf muscle problem that sidelined him for Wales’ three-Test warm-up schedule.

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Faletau goes straight into the starting line-up, packing down alongside back-row colleagues Aaron Wainwright and skipper Jac Morgan.

“We’ve had some good clarity about what we want to achieve and the way we want to play on the weekend,” Gatland said.

“The boys are looking sharp, there is a great environment in this group – players working for each other, enjoying each other’s company.

“We are in a good place and can’t wait to get out there and get our Rugby World Cup campaign under way.”

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While Faletau returns, though, hooker and Morgan’s co-captain Dewi Lake does not make the matchday 23.

The Ospreys hooker suffered a knee injury during Wales’ encounter against England at Twickenham last month, and Gatland added: “The medical team has done a fantastic job getting Dewi back to full fitness.

“He has not had as much training under his belt as the other hookers since he picked up that knock to his knee, so Ryan Elias and Elliot Dee are selected for us for this game.”

Elias starts, and there are also opportunities for the likes of centre Nick Tompkins and scrum-half Gareth Davies.

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Flanker Tommy Reffell, meanwhile, has been named among the replacements, being passed fit after missing training on Wednesday due to a knock.

There are five World Cup debutants in Gatland’s starting line-up and it will be the fifth successive World Cup where Wales and Fiji meet.

Centre George North joins a select group of Welsh players to feature in four World Cups, emulating Alun Wyn Jones, Stephen Jones and Gethin Jenkins.

Scarlets number nine Davies has won Gatland’s starting vote ahead of Tomos Williams as he clocks up World Cup number three.

“Twelve months ago I probably wouldn’t have thought I would be involved in the first game of a World Cup, but anything can happen in rugby, as we all know.” Davies said.

“I have worked extremely hard over the last year to work myself into contention, and hopefully I can show that on Sunday.

“Playing in a World Cup is the pinnacle. We have a few young guys in the squad – they are really excited about it – and plenty of experience.

“Fiji are going to be a very tough team to beat, but it is a challenge we are looking forward to.”

Since being dumped out of the World Cup by Fiji 16 years ago in Nantes, Wales have reeled off three successive wins.

Sunday’s encounter is huge in the context of a group where Australia and ever-improving Georgia will also be vying for qualification.

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