Gatland wants direct approach to gaining revenge over Fiji
Friday 19 November 2010
The last time Wales played Fiji an outrageous 38-34 upset cost Gareth Jenkins his job and led to Warren Gatland's return to the international stage. For obvious reasons, the latter is determined there will be no re-enactments at the Millennium Stadium this evening.
This is supposed to Wales' banker in the autumn series, but all week the message at the team hotel has been "remember Nantes 2007". It was there that the South Sea Islanders famously danced their way through to the knockout stages of the World Cup, causing what Deiniol Jones called "one of Welsh rugby's darkest days" in the process.
The Blues lock did not play that evening, but 10 of the current squad were involved. The captain, Ryan Jones, gave an impassioned speech on Monday, underlining to the new boys what this rematch means. "The guys are still hurting and have talked about this one for a while," said the centre Andrew Bishop. "It's a chance to get some revenge."
Gatland has resisted the temptation of making them watch the video. That particular squad session would have been entitled "How not to play Fiji". "From what I understand, the players didn't implement the game plan and tried to take on Fiji at their own game," said Gatland. He also pointed out what that result meant to his own future, saying: "If Wales had won, I wouldn't be sitting here now."
But he is and because of it, it is almost inconceivable Wales will ignore his instructions, like they presumably did his predecessor's. "We don't want to get into the situation where we're playing sevens rugby," said Gatland. "I've told the players the way to approach this is the same way the All Blacks, South Africa and particularly Australia do when they play the likes of Fiji or Samoa. They make sure their forwards are really direct and then go and play some rugby."
So the roof will not be open and neither will the Welsh play, at least not at the beginning. Gatland wants his team, showing nine changes to that which fell agonisingly short against South Africa last week, to display "structure", "intensity" and "ruthlessness". "We've been competing well against the best teams, but in the past the criticism has been that in games like this when we are expected to do well we just haven't turned up," said Gatland, who doesn't need telling that Wales have not lost six games in a row in seven years.
Plenty will rest on the still young shoulders of Dan Biggar. The Ospreys fly-half has come under scrutiny this season after a number of indifferent displays. If the 21-year-old can control the ball that will arrive from what should be a dominant home pack, then the likes of James Hook, Lee Byrne and the 18-year-old wing sensation George North could put down a marker for next year's World Cup, where Wales have again drawn Fiji. As ever the visitors' preparations have been anything but ideal.
They arrived in Wales without two of their best players. Seru Rabeni and Wame Lewaravu encountered "visa problems". "We have to win," said the Welsh prop Adam Jones. "If we don't it will be a bit shambles."
Millennium Stadium, tonight, 7.30pm (BBC 1W)
Wales L Byrne (Ospreys); G North (Scarlets), J Hook, A Bishop (both Ospreys), A Brew (Dragons); D Biggar (Ospreys), R Rees (Blues); P James, H Bennett, A Jones, I Gough (all Ospreys), D Jones (Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), D Lydiate (Dragons), J Thomas (Ospreys). Replacements R Hibbard (Ospreys), J Yapp, B Davies (both Blues), T Faletau (Dragons), M Phillips (Ospreys), S Jones (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Blues).
Fiji J Matavesi; M Tagicakibau, A Vulivuli, G Lovobalavu, V Goneva; S Bai, N Kenatale; C Ma'afu, V Veikoso, D Manu (capt), I Rawaqa, J Qovu, S Saukawa, S Koyamaibole, M Ravulo. Replacements T Talemaitoga, G Dewes, S Kalou, A Qera, S Taka, R Ratu, T Rawaqa.
Referee J Garces (Fr).
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