Warren Gatland looking to put the drama behind him and focus on the nerves and excitement of a World Cup campaign as Wales prepare for opener against Fiji

Four years ago, the start of Wales’ World Cup tournament was completely thrown into disarray when assistant coach Rob Howley was sent home from Japan for breaching the betting rules.

The carnage was absolute. Then Welsh Rugby Union CEO Martyn Phillips flew around the world to manage the mess and lead an emergency press conference.

In Bordeaux yesterday (Fri) there was nothing off the pitch for Wales to worry about apart from the scorching heat. As temperatures reached 35 degrees, Welsh and Irish fans basked in the sunshine.

The Six Nations Grand Slam winners face Romania on Saturday, while Wales face Fiji on Sunday.

Their head coach Warren Gatland is in his fifth World Cup and rare for the crazy world that is Welsh rugby, he doesn’t have any off-field drama to distract him at the moment.

Warren Gatland will be in his fifth World Cup when he leads Wales in their opener

The Welsh had a disappointing Six Nations and are looking for a quieter World Cup

The Welsh had a disappointing Six Nations and are looking for a quieter World Cup

Yet there is fear.

‘I’m always nervous. I would be concerned if it wasn’t,’ Gatland said.’ If you are nervous about the game or what could possibly happen, this focuses the mind. There is nothing wrong with that. I see it as a very positive point because the players are on the cutting edge just before the match.


Wales: L Williams; Rees-Zammit, North, Tompkins, Adams; Biggar, Davies; Thomas, Elias, Francis, Rowlands, Beard, Wainwright, Morgan (captain), Faletau

Replacements: Dee, Domachowski, Lewis, Jenkins, Reffell, T Williams, Costelow, Dyer

Fiji: Droasese; Ravutaumada, Nayacalevu (captain), Radrada, Habosi; Tela, Lomani; Mawi, Matavesi, Tagi, Nasilasila, Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Tuisue, Tagitagivalu, Mata

Replacements: Ikanivere, Ravai, Doge, Mayanavanua, Botia, Kuruvoli, Tuisova, Maqala

Referee: Matthew Carley (England)

Kick-off: Sunday 8 p.m., Bordeaux

Television: ITV

It will cause some nerves before and probably during the match.’

Wales are desperate to get going after months of grueling fitness work.

“It was fantastic,” Gatland said.

“Having that time and preparation and putting some of the things that happened in the Six Nations behind us has been really positive.”

Earlier this year, Wales won just one Six Nations match in Gatland’s first campaign back in charge.

His players threatened to strike before the England match due to contractual and financial uncertainty.

There is almost always some sort of off-field drama in Welsh rugby, but this World Cup has been serene so far compared to previous campaigns. No disruptions occurred.

“We’ve had some problems in Welsh rugby. Hopefully those are behind us now and we can fully concentrate on this World Cup,” said Gatland.

In 2019, Wales quickly put Howley’s departure behind them to reach the semi-finals as Gatland followed a Six Nations grand slam with a last four finish.

Gatland left the Welsh rugby hotseat in Tokyo saying he would be heartbroken if Wales went into the doldrums under his successor Wayne Pivac.

Unfortunately that’s where they went with defeats to Italy and Georgia and now Gatland is back aiming for another miracle.

“No, I didn’t,” Gatland said this week, when asked if he could ever have foreseen being back in charge of Wales for the 2023 tournament in France.

And yet here he is. Fiji will certainly provide Wales with a more than significant test. We shouldn’t forget that they are the top-ranked team in Pool C, ahead of Wales and Australia.

But there can be no excuses for Gatland and his side. It is up to them to perform now.

Rookie captain Jac Morgan, 23, is the player with the fewest number of caps in the starting XV, although there is a nice mix between youthful exuberance and experience.

Rookie skipper Jac Morgan leads a team with a good mix of youth and experience

Rookie skipper Jac Morgan leads a team with a good mix of youth and experience

Wales will face Fiji and captain Waisea Nayacalevu in their opening group match

Wales will face Fiji and captain Waisea Nayacalevu in their opening group match

Simon Raiwalui, Fiji’s head coach, lost his star player Caleb Muntz at the beginning of this week. The remarkable Levani Botia is only fit enough for the bench.

Raiwalui said, “When can we ever be called favorites if we are considered a developing country versus a developed country? We are confident in our preparation, but we never think we are favorites to win. We are modest.’ The thing is though, Fiji is probably the favourite.

Welsh supporters crowding into Bordeaux looking for an omen of good luck may have realized that this is the city where their country’s football team began its famous run to the semi-finals of Euro 2016. Gareth Bale helped Chris Coleman’s men to a 2-1 win over Slovakia in June that year.

Morgan and Co hope to achieve similar success in the same stadium on Sunday.

Wales have insisted they are confident in their fitness. It will be tested in the brutal heat, although World Rugby’s sensible decision to introduce water breaks for the opening round of World Cup matches could be to Fiji’s advantage. Either way, Bordeaux is ready for a fantastic weekend of rugby.

“There’s a lot of confidence within the team that if we get things right we can go far,” Morgan said.