The Wales players have been told in no uncertain terms to snap out of the euphoria generated by victory at Twickenham on Saturday, with head coach Warren Gatland threatening to drop any player whose standards drop in the lead-up to the game against Fiji tomorrow.
Gatland yesterday made three changes to the side that beat England to take on Fiji at the Millennium Stadium – all of them enforced by injury – but said he was willing to make further alterations to his starting line-up if he felt any player was not pulling his weight. “They had a bit of a rocket this morning in terms of I’ve named a team but I’ve said that if I see body language not right then I’ll change you tomorrow,” said Gatland.
Wales are without the services of three of their back-line players: Scott Williams and Hallam Amos are out of the World Cup with knee and shoulder injuries respectively, while full-back Liam Williams misses the game after being knocked out by a blow to the head from Tom Wood.
Matthew Morgan comes in at full-back, while the youngest member of the squad, Tyler Morgan, will start in the centre alongside Jamie Roberts less than three weeks after celebrating his 20th birthday. The other change is Alex Cuthbert taking Amos’s spot on the wing.
Gatland admitted he was facing the worst run of injuries he has encountered with any team. Wales are now without 10 players in all, including Gareth Anscombe, whose ankle injury means he is unavailable to take on Fiji in the same week he was called up to the squad as cover. The other player brought into the squad this week, James Hook, starts on the bench.
Despite the fitness situation, Gatland said the physical battle was not his greatest concern against the Fijians “It’s not physical but mental,” he claimed. “You’ve got to make sure that sometimes the challenge is not the physical one but mental. Our jobs as coaches to make them mentally right.”
The New Zealander has opted to stick with the same pack despite the front five struggling against England’s scrum at times on Saturday. Gatland blamed some on-field setbacks on inexperience but said he was giving a chance to the players in question to “fix those things up”.
“Scott Baldwin’s not been hooker for long and Tomas Francis is in his second year as a pro, only a baby and I don’t expect him to be any good for five or six years. But the pleasing thing as a coach is that players learn and adapt and the experience from Saturday will hold us in good stead on Thursday.”
Back-row forwards Taulupe Faletau and Dan Lydiate will both be making their 50th appearances for Wales, although Lydiate admitted Gatland’s warning in their first training session since the victory over England had put the players on edge ahead of what is effectively another must-win game.
“He said that if anyone walks around the pitch thinking they can take it easy, they will suffer the consequences,” said Lydiate. “He said that if anyone was brave enough to test that theory, go ahead. I was like ‘all right, I will be flat out this afternoon’.”Reuse content