By Ian Ransom
FUKUOKA, Japan (Reuters) – A Wales team still counting the cost of their bruising win over Fiji will look to grind through Uruguay in their final Pool D clash in Kumamoto on Sunday to secure top spot in the group and a kinder path through the knockout rounds.
Wales coach Warren Gatland has ruled out first-choice flyhalf Dan Biggar after he suffered his second head knock of the tournament in a sickening collision with team mate Liam Williams during the 29-17 win against Fiji.
Linchpin centre Jonathan Davies is also sidelined with a knee issue along with winger George North (ankle), Gatland said on Friday as he unveiled a starting team with 13 changes from the one that played Fiji.
Rhys Patchell is slotting in for Biggar in the number 10 shirt at Kumamoto Stadium but Gatland was cagey about backup options, with no other specialist flyhalves to call on.
“It’s a bit of a juggling act,” said Gatland, who has brought back the rested Justin Tipuric in the back row and named him captain.
“We knew from the start that we were going to expose a few players.
“We’ve probably got a nine (scrumhalf) who can step in there.”
Victory over Uruguay will mean taking on France in the quarter-finals, which may be preferable to Eddie Jones’s well-drilled England given Les Bleus’ shaky form through the pool phase.
Both France and England will have had two weeks to rest before the quarter-final due to Super Typhoon Hagibis cancelling their scheduled pool game on Saturday.
Gatland said it was an “interesting dilemma” for world number seven France.
“Some teams will welcome it. For us, it’s about continuing the momentum and building on that,” he said.
“Hopefully after Sunday we can think about getting down to Oita and preparing for a Sunday game against France.
“They would be very tough but we have to do a job this Sunday first.”
The Six Nations champions will have a number of players looking to impress their coach ahead of the knockouts, including winger Hallam Amos in what will be his World Cup debut and 22-year-old centre Owen Watkin, who steps in for Davies.
Even with a patched-up backline, Wales should have too many weapons for emerging rugby nation Uruguay, who have already exceeded expectations in Japan after upsetting Pacific power Fiji.
Beaten 45-10 by Australia in their previous pool game in Oita, the South Americans will hope a stronger finish against the Welsh can boost their credibility and lead to more games against tier-one nations during the next World Cup cycle.
“This team has established a base in every way, from which we have to continue building,” said Uruguay flanker Franco Lamanna.
“We have met our expectations, but we are not satisfied and we want to improve what can be improved in the next game.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Toby Davis)