Lacklustre Wales To Bring Things Up A Notch
Wales v Fiji
After a patchy year so far, Wales aim for a much needed win against Fiji in the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
2014 has been a difficult year for Wales. After a lacklustre attempt to defend their Six Nations title, in which they lost to both England and Ireland, they embarked on an unsuccessful summer mini-tour of South Africa, losing both their Tests. The return to Welsh soil last weekend didn’t see an upturn in results, as they once again came up short against southern hemisphere opponents, going down 33-28 to Australia.
Fiji earned a decent victory 25-14 victory over Italy in the summer before finishing second in the Pacific Conference of the Pacific Nations Cup, crushing Tonga but losing narrowly to Samoa. After signing off with a thrashing of the Cook Islands in their World Cup qualifier, they returned to action against France in Marseille last week, but were beaten 40-15 in their first autumn international.
After Saturday’s defeat, Gatland has changed over half of his starting team for this week’s game. Captain Sam Warburton is being rested, so prop Gethin Jenkins, who takes over from Paul James in the front row, will lead the side. Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny are out with a groin injury and concussion respectively, and there are recalls for Scott Williams, Rhys Priestland and Mike Phillips
Fiji came through their defeat in Marseille unscathed, and coach John McKee has two more options for the game in Cardiff. Ospreys Josh Matavesi is available again after recovering from injury and Leicester Tigers winger Vereniki Goneva has been able to link up with the squad after resolving a visa issue. Both will add valuable northern hemisphere experience and are in line to come into the starting fifteen.
Wales have a dominant head to head record against Fiji, having won seven of their nine encounters, stretching back to 1985.
The sole Welsh defeat came in the World Cup of 2007, in a Pool B game, when Fiji raced into a 25-10 half-time lead and held out against a second half surge to win 38-34 and progress to the quarter-finals.
Three years later, Fiji claimed a creditable 16-16 draw at the Millennium Stadium, but normal service was resumed at their last meeting, the final Pool D game at the 2011 World Cup, in which Wales thrashed the Fijians 66-0.
Wales pulled out all the stops in preparing for their game with Australia, but it made no difference, and for the sixth time in Gatland’s reign, kicked off their autumn internationals with a defeat. They weren’t far away from beating the Wallabies, but once again fell short, and that will be a bitter disappointment for a side that has consistently failed against southern hemisphere opposition.
But a repeat of last weekend’s performance should be enough to see off Fiji. The tourists are likely to provide some entertainment, but Wales will be too strong in every department. Back Wales -22 at 10/11 in the Match Handicap market.