By Ian Ransom
OITA, Japan (Reuters) – Fiji will look to put pressure on Wales’ rejigged back row in their Rugby World Cup clash on Wednesday as the Pacific islanders seek to keep their faint quarter-finals hopes alive, coach John McKee said.
Wales coach Warren Gatland has elected to rest stalwart openside flanker Justin Tipuric from the match at Oita Stadium, bringing in the relatively inexperienced James Davies.
In other Welsh tweaks, Ross Moriarty has been promoted from the bench to start at number eight, with Josh Navidi shifting across to the blindside.
McKee has brought Viliame Mata into his back row, with the hulking, 6-ft 6-in (1.98m) loose forward to wear the number eight shirt in place of the benched Peceli Yato.
The only change to the Fiji starting side that thrashed Georgia 45-10 in their last start, Olympic rugby sevens gold medallist Mata will stand with openside flanker Semi Kunatani and blindside captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu.
McKee said he had taken a close look at the Welsh back row and felt beating them in the collisions could be decisive.
“We have got some very good back rowers, and whichever way we play them, it is a very strong, strong back row on the park,” New Zealander McKee told reporters on Monday at the team’s hotel in Osaka.
“We can see what a strong side they are around the breakdown. One of the closest battles will be around the breakdown”, McKee said.
“Wales certainly look to attack the ball on the carriers and either try to win turnovers or slow the ball up. That is going to be a critical area for us, firstly to make sure we get good continuity and that secondly, we are effective enough to get quick ball,” he said.
Having lost both opening pool games against Australia and Uruguay, victory in their final clash against Wales would keep Fiji in contention for the quarter-finals, but they would need either the Welsh or the Wallabies to slip up in their final matches to go through.
Pool D leaders Australia play Georgia in their final game, with the second-placed Welsh to meet Uruguay.
“We see this final pool game as both a challenge and an opportunity, it is important to finish the pool stage on a high note”, said McKee.
“We carry some confidence and momentum from the Georgia match and at the same time know we must step up in performance in this match as it will be of a higher intensity.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Karishma Singh, Robert Birsel)