Fiji test as Wales eye last eight

There was always a strong possibility Stephen Jones would have to settle for the bench at the World Cup though few could have imagined it was not James Hook keeping him there.

The battle for the revered red No 10 jersey was, it was always assumed, between those two British Lions who shared duties during the 2008 Grand Slam. Yet under the radar has slipped the young pretender Rhys Priestland, now confirmed as first-choice fly-half with his selection against Fiji tomorrow, just a week ahead of a World Cup quarter-final.

"I guess this is the biggest game of my career so far, but I seem to be saying that all the time this year," said the 24-year-old with a relaxed shrug. "First it was big games in the Heineken Cup, then my Wales debut and now here. I guess the further we go then the bigger the games get, but I'm not putting any pressure on myself.

"I used to get really nervous before a game and then stress over every little thing but it really didn't get me very far. Then I realised that I play rugby because I enjoy it and I'm really enjoying myself here. Of course, it's even more enjoyable when you're winning."

Gatland has gone to great lengths to talk up the young Scarlets play-maker who appears unflappable despite his horror miss in the opening game against South Africa, and it raises the question of where Hook will play when he returns to full fitness.

Gatland said: "We've been really happy with the width Rhys has given us. He has a good balance to his game, makes the right decisions at the right times and is combining well with Mike Phillips and Jamie Roberts."

Priestland was an innocent by-stander when Wales threw their game plan out the window after the opening exchanges and willingly joined in a game of rugby's equivalent to basketball with the Fijians at the last World Cup.

The result was one of the most entertaining games of rugby at any recent World Cup but that counted for little in the Valleys, or to the then coach, Gareth Jenkins, who was sacked the morning after the 38-34 defeat in Nantes four years ago. But Priestland is unmoved.

"It is very much the same situation as we faced with Samoa. They were supposed to be a bogey-team for Wales at the World Cup but those results had nothing to do with this team and we just crack on and get on with it. It's important we don't go into our shells," said the outside-half.

Priestland, like his captain Sam Warburton, is part of a new generation of Wales players being pressed through in New Zealand, clearly untainted by previous disappointments and already looking to the knock-out stages after their rivals Samoa lost to South Africa.

"I don't think that result will change anything for us. We're obviously happy with the way things have gone but this tournament is all about momentum and we want to go into the next stage on the back of a good win and performance," said Priestland.

Fiji have been the anti-climax of the World Cup so far. They have hinted at so much but were ultimately undone by a failure to build on the success of 2007 and a reliance on old heads while other talents, such as Leinster full-back Isa Nacewa, opted not to come to New Zealand. However, having a crop of young faces with little to lose may yet make them a dangerous prospect for Wales.

Gatland said: "Fiji haven't thrown the ball around as much as we thought up to now, but these youngsters playing with typical Fijian style could put us under pressure. But it's about us having the confidence to play our game."

Wales: L Byrne, G North, S Williams, J Roberts, L Halfpenny, R Priestland, M Phillips; T Faletau, S Warburton (capt), R Jones, L Charteris, B Davies, A Jones, H Bennett, G Jenkins. Replacements L Burns, P James, A-W Jones, A Powell, L Williams, S Jones, J Davies.

Fiji: I Keresoni, A Vulivuli, R Fatiaki, G Lovobalavu, M Tagicakibau, N Little, V Buatava; N Talei (capt), S Matadigo, R Nasiga, W Lewaravu, L Nakarawa, S Somoca, S Koto, W Nailago. Replacements V Veikoso, C Ma'afu, M Ravulo, A Qera, N Kenatale, S Bai, V Goneva.

Referee: W Barnes (Eng). TV ITV1, 5.30-8am.

Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home