- Wales’ Resurgence and World Cup Ambitions
- The Youthful Talent in Wales’ Squad
- Portugal’s Challenge and Playing Style
What a distinction a victory makes. Wales spent the previous week under siege, fending off queries about their year to date, their low ranking in comparison to their first opponents Fiji, and even the pre-match nerves of Warren Gatland, the most successful rugby maestro of all time. One bonus-point victory later, they field an exciting youthful squad and begin to discuss the World Cup finals.
In the last three World Cup tournaments, under Gatland, Wales has reached the semi-final, quarter-final, and semi-final, losing by one, four, and three points, respectively. Gatland remarked beforehand, “Don’t count us out.” “I continue to believe that this club is capable of something extraordinary. It is one contest at a time for us. We have performed well in previous World Cups and would like to reach the World Cup final.”
Wales are tied with Australia at the summit of Pool C with maximum points after their controversial match against Fiji in Bordeaux on Sunday evening. Fiji must now defeat Australia in what will be another intense match on Sunday, whereas Wales can rest the majority of its players for their match against Portugal in Nice. Portugal, ranked 16th in the world, is the highest-ranked “fifth” team in any pool, one position above Uruguay. After Thursday night’s match in Lille, France can attest to Uruguay’s prowess.
Gatland has made thirteen substitutions, bringing in one of his co-captains, Dewi Lake, for just his third start for Wales and his tenth overall cap.
The 24-year-old hooker Lake was named co-captain alongside Jac Morgan, who led the team against Fiji. Lake skipped that game out of prudence, but he now leads a young, energetic squad.
Dan Lydiate, Taulupe Faletau, and Leigh Halfpenny may be regarded as stalwarts of Wales’s outgoing generation, but the rest of the team is brimming with youthful talent, led by a pair of halfbacks with Goldilocks-zone experience: Tomos Williams, who earns his 50th cap, and Gareth Anscombe.
Several combinations will be of particular interest. Johnny Williams and Mason Grady, each weighing approximately 17 stone, pose a physical challenge to the Portuguese in the middle, but the partnership in the engine room may be more important to Wales’ future.
Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza are barely out of their teens, but Jenkins has already been touted as the next Alun Wyn Jones, whereas Tshiunza defies comparisons: a galloping, leaping athlete who could probably play several other positions – and not just in the back row for Wales, where he has also played. This will be his initial appearance as a lock.
Both young males attend the local university and play rugby in Exeter.
“It is still a little strange,” Tshiunza said. “We are also roommates, and sometimes we recline in bed and ask, ‘What are we doing here? What have we done to merit being 20 years old?'”
In November of last year, Portugal secured qualification for this tournament with a 16-16 draw against the United States. As evidence that it was no coincidence, they defeated them 46-20 in August in Algarve. This is their first World Cup match since 2007 when they also participated.
They are coached by former France winger Patrice Lagisquet, formerly known as the Bayonne Express. Eleven of the starting eleven play professionally in France, with only Perpignan hooker Mike Tadjer in the Top 14. Vincent Pinto, a right-wing, is one of four athletes who have represented France Under-20s. In 2019, he claimed the world championship with them.
“Portugal are somewhat comparable to Fiji,” said Gatland. “They like to move the ball around.” If nothing else, Wales’s encounter with them should be pleasant on the eye.