Gatland makes wholesale changes for Wales final World Cup warm-up fixture

By Sports Desk September 05, 2019

Alun Wyn Jones returns to captain Wales for their final Rugby World Cup warm-up fixture against Ireland in a starting line-up featuring 15 changes.

Coach Warren Gatland has opted to make wholesale alterations for the fixture in Dublin following last weekend's 22-17 defeat against the same opponents in Cardiff.

Skipper Jones is joined by fellow powerhouse forwards Ross Moriarty and Justin Tipuric, while Aaron Wainwright makes up the back-row.

Rhys Patchell impressed enough off the bench against Ireland last time out to earn a place on the plane to Japan and is named at fly-half, with Tomos Williams starting at nine.

An exciting backline sees Hadleigh Parkes link up with Jonathan Davies at centre, while Josh Adams, George North and Leigh Halfpenny make up Wales' back three.

"This is our final preparation match so it is important we get enough rugby into us, get rugby ready ahead of our opener against Georgia which is just over two weeks away," said Gatland, whose squad depart for Japan on Wednesday.

"It is important we hit the ground running in Japan and we give the players enough time on the field.

"Saturday is the first time these players would have taken to the field as members of the World Cup squad, it has been a big week and it is a big opportunity for players to put their hand up and secure spots for the starting XV in Japan."


Wales team to face Ireland: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Rhys Patchell, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Elliot Dee, Tomas Francis, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones, Aaron Wainwright, Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty

Replacements: Ken Owen, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Josh Navidi, Gareth Davies, Dan Biggar, Liam Williams

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    The hosts reached the last eight for the first time with a 28-21 victory over Scotland in a decisive match in Yokohama last weekend.

    Japan avoided New Zealand by topping Pool A but face a huge test against the Springboks at Tokyo Stadium.

    The Brave Blossoms pulled off one of the great sporting upsets by beating the two-time champions in Brighton at the last World Cup four years ago and captain Leitch says history can repeat itself.

    "We're not satisfied; the end is not here," the number eight said.

    "We'll play in the last eight and have another chance to show our game to our people. Each of us are playing to have more of that opportunity.

    "South Africa looked really scary at the start of the week, but we begin to feel really excited as we understand the game and think about how to break them down. That fear gradually fades and confidence rises."

    Japan were thrashed 41-7 by the Rugby Championship holders in a pre-tournament Test last month and Springboks captain Siya Kolisi says that served as a small measure of revenge. 

    "That was very tough to lose that match in England. That stuck with us until that game when we got here [before this World Cup]," the flanker said. "It's something that we never want to go through again."

    He added: "They are a much better team now, and it was good to play that game before the World Cup, just to get that monkey off our back.

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    Japan – Michael Leitch

    The inspirational Leitch and his opposite number Kolisi are set for another monumental battle, while also keeping calm heads and ensuring their sides stay disciplined with so much at stake. 

    Leitch will need to lead by example again after an inspired display against Scotland.

    South Africa - Cheslin Kolbe

    Kolbe missed the Springboks' final pool match against Canada as a precautionary measure after taking a blow to his ankle in the victory over Italy.

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    KEY OPTA FACTS

    - Japan's victory over South Africa in England was their first against a tier one nation in the tournament at their 16th attempt.
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    - Japan made 559 metres against Scotland, the third time in the tournament they had made 500 plus metres in a match.
    - Springboks wing Kolbe averaged 12.8 metres per carry in the pool stage, the best rate of any player to make at least 10 carries.
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    Japan were not given a prayer in the opening Pool B match given Zimbabwe were the only team they had previously beaten in a World Cup match – and that win was way back in 1991.

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    Karne Hesketh crossed right at the death and Ayumu Goromaru claimed a 24-point haul to leave the two-time champions not knowing what had hit them following a 34-32 loss.

     

    Meyer fronts up to 'Boklash'

    Heyneke Meyer came under fire after his side lost the plot and rampant Japan made them pay.

    The then-head South Africa coach said: "I have to apologise to the nation. It was just not good enough. It was unacceptable and I take full responsibility.

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    Jones: I had to look at the scoreboard

    Jones, who landed the England job after his success with Japan in 2015, was pinching himself after the underdogs snatched victory with their last throw of the dice. 

    The Australian said: "Japan beating South Africa? I had to look at the scoreboard at the end just to see if it was true or not. We kept hanging in there. It looked at one stage when they got seven points ahead that they would run away with it.

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    Jones said the objective for Japan was to go on and reach the quarter-finals after downing the two-time champions, but they fell agonisingly short.

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    Dan Biggar is confident he is 100 per cent ready to return to action in Wales' Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash with France, according to Warren Gatland.

    Biggar missed Wales' final Pool D match against Uruguay with concussion after suffering head knocks in consecutive matches against Australia and Fiji.

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    Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones has also been selected and will join Brian O'Driscoll in third on the all-time list for international Test appearances with his 141st cap.

    "It's one chance to stay or you know where you are going," he said of Wales' ambitions for Sunday's clash.

    "It's funny because the planning for this has probably been in Warren's head for the last 10 years rather than the last four years, two years, or 18 months.

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