Rugby Autumn Internationals: Wales have a fresh start following recent troubles against Fiji

Once Wales closes a hole this fall, another gushing stream appears to be looming – so Sunday’s Fiji match is a chance for their patched-up side to thrive.

Against the All Blacks it was their appallingly leaky defenses and sluggish lineups, and when they sorted that out against South Africa, the crush of Wales splintered.

Amidst this, injuries piled up, particularly among steadfast Alun Wyn Jones and Ken Owens, and a Covid case for Uilisi Halaholo, as well as two pitch invaders who made it onto the Principality Stadium lawn, and Wales is in on and off the pitch sailed in troubled waters.

Ellis Jenkins will captain Wales in his second Test since returning from a terrible knee injury

Alex Cuthbert will play Fiji in his first Wales Test since 2017 on Sunday

So today can be a fresh start for all of this. It will be on the team for many – stories of redemption, progress, and intrigue across the field.

On the right wing is Alex Cuthbert, who will play his first Test since Georgia in 2017, after four years of exile in England and recent injuries.

Behind him is Liam Williams – back after appendectomy problems – and inside is Josh Adams, assigned to a new position at the outside center.

In the back row, Thomas Young runs for the first time in the Principality Stadium, 20 years after he played there for his father Dai at the 50.

Thomas Young will make his first appearance at the Principality Stadium after being a mascot 20 years ago to see his father Dai’s 50th international match

And, perhaps a sign that a new era is emerging, Ellis Jenkins is captain on only his second test after his horrific knee injury in 2018.

With the massive Christ Tshiunza prepped for his debut from the bank, there are stories everywhere.

Wales will have to end Sunday in a victory – without the heartbreaking drama of the last game their head coach Wayne Pivac was embroiled in between these teams when he was in the opponent’s dressing room.

“When we came here in 2005, we were hit by a drop goal in the last minute,” recalled Pivac of the Welsh’s 11-10 win thanks to a kick from Nicky Robinson.

“You are a passionate rugby nation. It was a fantastic experience to live in another country. I remember winning a Tri Nations down there, which is great for the Fijians. When you play against Tongans and Samoans, it really matters.

“It’s like the Six Nations for Wales. I also had experience with the sevens down there and winning the World Cup with Fiji was just a great experience to see what it meant for the whole nation. You are crazy about rugby.

Wales are eager to show their strength after being devastated by South Africa last week

“You can’t hide from the pictures,” said Wales coach Wayne Pivac of the loss to South Africa

“Rugby and religion are the two big Rs. They are very similar to us in Wales and New Zealand, to be honest. Sevens was the number one sport followed by 15s and they will come on Sunday and enjoy the opportunity to play in front of a large audience.

“I know you will look forward to it.” They will when people like Viliame Mata, the Jos Tuisova grand piano of Edinburgh No 8, and the scrum half Frank Lomani will sing.

But, as is so often the case, this is not fully grown Fiji – no Semi Radradra, the Bristol superstar, no Levani Botia, the center, not even the head coach Vern Cotter traveled here because of Covid.

“They will have a strong team there is no doubt about that,” added Pivac.

“Of course it’s unfortunate that Vern and one or two executives can’t come, but Fiji has come a long way since I was there.

“You are a side one cannot rest against. The offloading game is second to none. Fijians love ball-in-hand and are very skilled.

“We saw them against the All Blacks with a solid scrum for most of the game and they made a driving lineout attempt so they came a long way in set piece.

“Many of their players are known to us in the northern hemisphere. We expect a big, physical game. ‘ While the result is not in doubt, it will be a worthy exercise for Wales. First they need to sort out their crush, as defense coach and former prop master Gethin Jenkins admitted.

“You can’t hide from the pictures,” he said of the springbok rummaging around in front.

WALES V FIJI TEAMS

WALES: L. Williams; Cuthbert, Adams, J. Williams; Rees-Zammit; Biggar, Hardy; Carré, Elias, Francis, Rowlands, Beard, Jenkins, Young, Basham.

Bank: Roberts, G. Thomas, John, Tshiunza, S. Davies, T. Williams, Sheedy, Tompkins.

FIJI: Tuicuvu; Tuisova, Nayacalevu, Botitu, Sau; Volavola, Lomani; Ravai Kovekalou, Matavesi, Doge, Ratuniyarawa, Mayanavanua, Tuisue, Kunavula, Mata.

Bank: Togiatama, Mawi, Atalifo, Ratuva, Dakuwaqa, Matawalu, Naqalevu, Tuimaba.

‘It was hard. Every time we went to a scrum we felt like we lost a penalty or a decision. We are aware of this and we need to improve in this area. There’s a lot of work going on behind closed doors. ‘ But they too can learn valuable lessons for 2023 when Fiji is back in their World Cup pool.

“You will probably miss a few too, so they will probably be stronger at the World Cup, but it would be good to go out this weekend and set a marker for two years,” added Jenkins.

Losing to the Pacific Islanders is highly unlikely – if that happens, the entire Welsh ship could sink quickly – but a sovereign win can put the tide back against Pivac’s team, at least temporarily.

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