Wales head coach Warren Gatland has made 13 changes to the starting line-up for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup Pool C encounter against Portugal in Nice.

Gatland retains just two of the side – wing Louis Rees-Zammit and number eight Taulupe Faletau – that overcame Fiji 32-26 in a ferocious contest last weekend.

Co-captain Dewi Lake leads Wales after recovering from a knee injury, while scrum-half Tomos Williams wins his 50th cap and there are first World Cup starts for the likes of centre Mason Grady and lock Christ Tshiunza.

Lake suffered a knee problem during Wales’ World Cup warm-up game against England, but he now returns to pack down alongside front-row colleagues Nicky Smith and Dillon Lewis.

Tshiunza forges an all-Exeter lock partnership alongside Dafydd Jenkins, with fly-half Gareth Anscombe also back after injury.

Grady, meanwhile, is partnered in midfield by Johnny Williams, Leigh Halfpenny wins his 101st cap at full-back and another experienced campaigner – flanker Dan Lydiate – also features.

Wales kept their Euro 2024 qualification hopes alive with a 2-0 win in Latvia as Aaron Ramsey’s 100th career goal and a David Brooks clincher lifted the pressure on under-fire manager Rob Page.

Ramsey stroked home a 29th-minute penalty – his 21st goal for Wales – before Brooks, on as a substitute for the injured captain, settled matters in the sixth minute of stoppage time.

The victory was Wales’ second in 14 attempts and gives them renewed hope that they can claim a top-two place in Group D.

On a night when Wales simply had to win or be left with a play-off route to Germany next summer, there was further good news before kick-off as group leaders Croatia did them a favour by winning 1-0 in Armenia.

Croatia are Wales’ next Euro opponents in Cardiff next month, and Page can now look forward to that game after heading to Riga with huge question marks over his future.

The 49-year-old was feted as a national hero after leading Wales to their first World Cup for 64 years, but poor performances at that tournament and in this campaign had prompted large parts of the fan base to call for managerial change.

Page had drawn encouragement from Thursday’s friendly with South Korea – and he named 10 of the side who started that goalless draw in Cardiff.

Captain Ramsey returned in place of Nathan Broadhead as Burnley’s Connor Roberts won his 50th cap.

Jordan James made his first competitive start and the 19-year-old suggested he may be a mainstay of the Wales midfield for some time to come.

Latvia had drawn a complete blank in Euro 2024 qualifying, losing all four games, with three of them – including a 1-0 away defeat to Wales in March – by a single goal margin.

The tiny three-sided Skonto Stadium, with cars parked behind one goal, seemed at odds with what was such an important night in Welsh football. But over 1,000 Wales fans were in a crowd of 6,464.

There had been a mood of sporting celebration in Riga throughout the day as Latvians turned out to honour their basketball players, who had recorded a best finish of fifth at the sport’s World Cup, in the city.

Wales should have had the perfect start inside 75 seconds when Ethan Ampadu released Brennan Johnson but Tottenham’s new striker skied over on his unfavoured left side.

Ampadu was off-target from a Harry Wilson corner but Wales were threatening at set-pieces.

Chris Mepham met another Wilson corner at the far post and Ben Davies reached the deflected ball first to force Roberts Ozols into a flying save in the Latvian goal.

Chances continued to come and go for Wales with Johnson wayward again and Ozols producing stops to deny Wilson and Roberts.

There was a danger that frustration would creep in, but Latvia provided a helping hand when Kaspars Dubra bundled over Wilson after 28 minutes.

The incident survived a VAR check for a potential offside in the build-up and Ramsey coolly converted for his landmark goal.

Wales should have been out of sight in the next 10 minutes as Neco Williams and Johnson fired wide when well-placed and Ozols denied Wilson again.

Latvia had shown nothing as an attacking force for 41 minutes before suddenly bursting into life.

Ward shovelled out a Janis Ikaunieks header that Roberts had to clear as the Latvian striker prepared to pounce for the rebound, while Raimonds Krollis almost profited twice after being left unguarded.

Wales suffered a blow four minutes into the second half when Ramsey signalled to the bench to come off, with David Brooks taking his place.

The worry was that Wales would miss Ramsey’s stabilising influence and Krollis went close after Johnson had driven wide.

Latvia might have been reduced to 10 men when Ikaunieks aimed a wild kick at James.

Slovakian referee Michal Ocenas brandished a yellow card before being asked to review the decision at the VAR monitor. After a two-minute check Ocenas stuck with his original decision and Ikaunieks escaped further sanction.

The final quarter became very fragmented with a series of niggly fouls.

Ikaunieks’ 20-yard shot flew into the side netting and, while that would have represented the cruellest punishment for Wales, Brooks ended matters by racing on to Wilson’s pass and scoring with the most delicious of chips.

Jonathan Humphreys insists the pressure is not off Wales after a thrilling victory over Fiji increased hopes of a fourth successive Rugby World Cup quarter-final appearance.

Wales’ 32-26 success came after they repelled a ferocious Fiji fightback that saw them score two tries during the last seven minutes.

And had Fiji’s star centre Semi Radradra not spilled possession with the line at his mercy just seconds from time, then it could have been a totally different outcome.

Wales face remaining Pool C games against Portugal, Australia and Georgia, and the knockout phase is now undoubtedly in sight following a statement win.

“The big one for us is Portugal. We did well in a lot of areas, but there is still massive room for growth for us,” Wales assistant coach and forwards specialist Humphreys said.

“We are not thinking anywhere close to what possibly could be. We know what’s definitely going to be, and that is Portugal in a few days’ time.

“It is not an easy game, it is their first game in this tournament. They are a tough side to play against, they are very skilful.

“We don’t see this as pressure off. It is just the next game and we have to perform.”

Wales made more than 240 tackles in the game, with 71 of those attributed to just three players – lock Will Rowlands, prop Gareth Thomas and captain Jac Morgan.

And that punishing defensive effort ultimately thwarted Fiji’s attacking brilliance in a game that produced eight tries and no shortage of high-octane entertainment.

Humphreys added: “You can’t make that many tackles if you are not fit and have the ability to get up and go again. The mindset and fitness was excellent.

“I don’t think many people had probably given us a shot at that game, but we had a belief.

“We knew to an extent what Fiji were going to bring, but it is still so hard to stop them. Their footwork is so late and so good, so we knew it was going to be an unbelievably tough game.

“But to get through it with a bonus point is massive for us.

“It was a hell of a relief at the end, but the next thing is Portugal. We need to play better, we need to be more accurate. That is the next focus for us.”

Rowlands was at the forefront, making 27 tackles and missing none as he delivered a performance that defined Wales’ unflinching attitude in defence.

“He is an exceptional athlete,” Humphreys said. “It is very rare you get such a big man who is such an athlete with such a big engine.

“He has turned into a very important player for us. He came to rugby late – he was early 20s when he started playing rugby. He is brilliant around the group.”

Wales held their nerve in a frantic and pulsating Rugby World Cup clash to beat Fiji 32-26 and put themselves on course for the quarter-finals.

Fiji were expected to provide ferocious opposition in Bordeaux, and they did not disappoint, but Wales ultimately claimed a fourth successive World Cup win against them in nerve-shredding fashion.

It was tense throughout, especially when Fiji scored twice in the last seven minutes and Wales had to dig deep during a frenzied finale when Fiji centre Semi Radradra knocked on close to the line in the game’s last play.

Warren Gatland’s team ultimately prevailed through tries from Josh Adams, George North, Louis Rees-Zammit and Elliot Dee, with fly-half Dan Biggar adding two penalties and three conversions in a bonus-point success watched by Welsh Rugby Union patron the Prince of Wales.

Fiji claimed tries by captain Waisea Nayacalevu, flanker Lekima Tagitagivalu, plus replacements Josua Tuisova and Mesake Doge – Frank Lomani converted two and Teti Tela also added a conversion – yet Wales gained the victory they craved ahead of remaining Pool C appointments with Portugal, Australia and Georgia.

Gatland masterminded two semi-final appearances during his previous reign as Wales head coach, and his players produced easily their best performance this year.

Biggar steered the ship impressively, while Wales’ defence often came up trumps at key moments, even somehow withholding Fiji late on after they were matched blow for blow.

Taulupe Faletau returned to Wales’ starting line-up after a calf muscle injury that sidelined him for the entire tournament warm-up schedule.

Fiji, meanwhile, showed one enforced change from the side that beat England at Twickenham last month with fly-half Tela replacing an injured Caleb Muntz.

Wales made an outstanding start, taking an 8-0 lead in as many minutes through a Biggar penalty and Adams try.

Biggar, playing in his final World Cup before retiring from Test rugby, kicked a long-range penalty before Wales carved open the Fiji defence.

North’s powerful midfield surge was taken on by scrum-half Gareth Davies before possession quickly went wide and Adams – top try-scorer at the 2019 World Cup in Japan – finished in style.

Fiji responded strongly, though, and Nayacalevu scored a 13th-minute try that Lomani converted.

It was a breathless contest in stamina-sapping heat, and Wales fell behind just four minutes later after Radradra broke clear and his pass to Tagitagivalu gave him an easy run-in.

Lomani’s conversion took Fiji 14-8 ahead, ringing alarm bells for Wales, before Biggar cut the gap by landing a second penalty.

And Wales regained the lead after relentless pressure reaped its reward as Nick Tompkins sent North over between the posts, with Biggar’s conversion securing an 18-14 advantage midway through the second quarter.

Fiji thought they had gone back in front just before the break, but Saracens prop Eroni Mawi was denied a try following a lengthy review of his dive for the line.

Davies was then on the receiving end of a high tackle by Selestino Ravutaumada and departed for a head injury assessment to be replaced by Tomos Williams. Wing Ravutaumada conceded a penalty but escaped further punishment from referee Matthew Carley as Wales held a four-point interval advantage.

Davies returned for the second period, and Biggar missed a 30-metre penalty chance before they conjured a third try in an unlikely fashion.

Sharp work by Tompkins unlocked Fiji’s defence, and skipper and flanker Jac Morgan provided the assist by kicking into space and Rees-Zammit finished off, with Biggar’s conversion making it 25-14.

Fiji camped deep inside Wales’ 22 entering the final quarter, and it took sustained last-ditch defending to keep them out.

But the game looked to have drifted away from Fiji when Tagitagivalu was yellow-carded and Wales scored before he had barely left the pitch.

The forwards drove a short-range lineout, and Dee claimed a touchdown that Biggar converted.

However, Wales then lost replacement prop Corey Domachowski to the sin-bin for a technical infringement and Fiji had the final say through tries from Tuisova and Doge, but Gatland’s men held on.

Under-fire Wales boss Rob Page says he is determined to see out the three remaining years of his contract.

Page signed a four-year deal exactly 12 months ago as Wales prepared to make their first appearance at a World Cup for 64 years.

But their fortunes have plummeted since and Page faces a potentially make-or-break Euro 2024 qualifier in Latvia on Monday.

Wales must beat bottom side Latvia – who are yet to register a point in Group D – to keep alive hopes of a top-two place and automatic qualification for next summer’s finals in Germany.

Asked at his pre-match press conference whether he was under pressure from the Football Association of Wales executive to qualify, Page said: “I can’t let that affect me. I can’t think about that.

“I’ve got a job to do. I want to qualify for me, as a Welsh supporter myself.

“As the manager, I want to be in this job for the rest of my contract. I really enjoy working with this group of players.”

Pressed further on whether he was fighting for his job, Page replied: “We are in an industry where you need to win games of football.

“We are in a period of transition as well. I can’t influence what the board or people above do.

“All I can worry about is winning games of football and giving it my best shot.

“If I do that and it doesn’t work out for me, then at least I can walk away with my head held high.”

Wales warmed up for their trip to Latvia with a goalless draw against South Korea on Thursday.

Page said he saw plenty of positive signs during that Cardiff clash and Wales were further boosted by Friday’s set of results in their qualifying section.

Group favourites Croatia left Latvia dispirited with a 5-0 thrashing, while Turkey and Armenia drew 1-1.

Wales would draw level on points with Armenia if they win in Riga and Croatia do likewise in Yerevan – and move within three points of Turkey with a game in hand.

“(Turkey and Armenia drawing) was probably the best result for us,” Page said.

“It would be nice for Croatia to get another win for them to run away with it and have us fighting it out for second spot.

“We want to win the game. It’s all about the points for us. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1-0.

“They are off the back of a tough game but they have been in games right up until the 90th minute.

“We can’t wait for it off the back of a positive performance against Korea. I didn’t want the game because I didn’t want to risk injuries and we’ve picked up an injury from that game as Wes (Burns) came on and he tweaked his hamstring.

“There is a generation of supporters who have seen Wales qualify for major tournaments. Losing players makes the job harder, but expectations say that we should be qualifying.

“It’s not as easy as that. We will continue to try and qualify for every tournament.”

Wales aim to keep their Euro 2024 qualification hopes against Latvia on Monday.

The Dragons have ground to make up in Group D after suffering June defeats to Armenia and Turkey.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the main talking points surrounding the clash at Riga’s Skonto Stadium.

Page under pressure

How Rob Page could do with a win. Wales’ woeful run of one victory in 13 games – against Latvia in March – has piled the pressure on the manager. Page signed a four-year contract only 12 months ago but many fans have turned on the man who guided Wales to their first World Cup for 64 years. There were some positive signs in Thursday’s goalless friendly draw against South Korea, but Page knows that getting Wales’ Euro 2024 campaign back on track by beating Latvia is a must.

Brennan time

With record scorer Gareth Bale’s exploits firmly in the history books, it is time for Brennan Johnson to take the mantle of being Wales’ main man. Johnson may only be 22, but his £47.5million move from Nottingham Forest to Tottenham has elevated him to another level. His last international goal came over a year ago in June 2022 and Johnson has to start scoring regularly if Wales are to prosper post-Bale.

State of play

That disastrous June double-header has left Wales with a mountain to climb for a top-two spot and automatic qualification. But all is not lost after Friday’s results, which fell kindly for Wales. Group favourites Croatia thrashed Latvia 5-0 to damage Monday’s opponents, while Turkey and Armenia drew 1-1. Wales would draw level on points with Armenia if they win in Latvia and Croatia do likewise in Yerevan – and move within three points of Turkey with a game in hand.

James breakthrough

Jordan James made his first Wales start against South Korea and was one of the stand-out players on the night. The 19-year-old midfielder came through the same Birmingham academy as England international Jude Bellingham and also appears to have a bright future ahead of him. James’ passing and pressing offers balance to a Wales midfield that has often been overrun in the past year – but is it too early to throw him into a must-win qualifier?

Perfect record

Wales can take heart from their record against Latvia – played two, won two. The two nations first met in a Riga friendly in August 2004, which Wales won 2-0. Both goals came in the final 10 minutes through John Hartson and Craig Bellamy. Wales beat Latvia 1-0 in their Euro 2024 qualifier in Cardiff six months ago. Kieffer Moore’s towering 41st-minute header secured Wales’ win on a night when Bale was given a pre-match guard of honour as he said goodbye to the home supporters.

Neco Williams has backed his former Nottingham Forest team-mate Brennan Johnson to thrive at Tottenham and keep Wales in the race for Euro 2024 qualification.

Johnson completed a £47.5million transfer to Spurs in the final minutes of deadline day and has not yet played for his new club.

But Williams said the 22-year-old forward celebrated the move by taking several of his Wales team-mates out to dinner in London and picking up the tab.

Johnson is, perhaps unfairly, considered the direct replacement for record Spurs goalscorer Harry Kane and the man to fill the boots of retired Wales great Gareth Bale at international level.

“A lot fans will say that, but at the same time Brennan is not Gareth Bale or Harry Kane,” Forest full-back Williams said ahead of Wales’ vital Euro 2024 qualifier in Latvia on Monday.

“He’s his own player and he has got his own style. He wouldn’t want to be compared to them or be seen as their replacements to step in.

“He has got the potential to reach the highest of levels. But at the same time he’s only 22 and still very young.

“He has proven it in the Premier League and now he has to prove it at what you’d say is a top-six team and do it in the Premier League again.

“He’s got a move for big money and you can see that his confidence has taken him to the next level.

“Hopefully he can take that with him into this Wales camp and win us some games.”

Johnson met up with some of his Wales colleagues in London after joining Tottenham before arriving for international duty.

“We celebrated with a little drink and some nice food,” said 22-year-old Williams.

“It was a little meet up and a chance to say congratulations to Brennan on his move. To be fair, he got the bill as well.

“Everyone was buzzing for him. It was last minute but we are all very pleased for him.

“I’m just not looking forward to seeing him come back to the City Ground!”

Johnson and Williams both started on Thursday as Wales drew 0-0 with South Korea in a Cardiff friendly.

But the Latvia game represents the important part of the September double-header as Wales attempt to revive their Euro 2024 qualification bid.

Defeats to Armenia and Turkey in June have left Wales playing catch-up in Group D and there is no margin for error in Riga.

Williams said: “When we look back on it, the goals we conceded, we know we can do so much better than that.

“As a team, that just wasn’t us. You can pinpoint so many things.

“The gaps were too big from the strikers to the defenders, it just wasn’t a good performance all-round.

“We’ve got top teams in our group and knew it wasn’t going to be easy from the start.

“But we’ve got plenty of games to put that right and get as many points as possible to qualify.”

Wales centre George North will join an elite Rugby World Cup club when he runs out against opening opponents Fiji on Sunday.

It will be North’s fourth tournament, a feat achieved by only four other Welshmen in Gethin Jenkins, Alun Wyn Jones, Gareth Thomas and Stephen Jones.

And, at 31, he is showing no sign of slowing down, remaining a pivotal figure in head coach Warren Gatland’s plans.

With 114 caps, North is the most experienced Wales player on show at France 2023, underlining his consistency, durability and quality.

“I hoped that I would get to one (World Cup), for sure. To represent your country is huge, but to play at a World Cup is wicked,” he said.

“I am still fighting and competing, and find myself at number four.

“I guess it’s just a kudos to myself and shows all the work you put in is worth it to get to a fourth. I am still enjoying it.”

North is enthused by Wales’ current World Cup crop, with the squad featuring 16 tournament debutants, including co-captains Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake.

He also has three other cap centurions for company in Dan Biggar, Taulupe Faletau and Leigh Halfpenny as Wales look to make an impact in France.

It will be Gatland’s fourth World Cup at the Wales helm, having previously masterminded two semi-final appearances, and North has been there every step of the way.

He also believes Gatland has firmly put his stamp on the squad, nine months back into his second stint as Wales boss and following a difficult Six Nations campaign last season.

“The vibe has been really good,” North added. “For a lot of the boys it is their first World Cup, so they are going into the unknown and they are excited.

“I think everyone has just bought into it straight off, and I think that comes from ‘Gats’ when he set the tone with his last message from the Six Nations to the first day in World Cup camp – ‘this is how we are going to do it, this is how I want to do it. You either want to be in, or you don’t’.

“Some of the (training) sessions in Switzerland were brutal, probably some of the hardest I have ever done. The same in Turkey.

“We came off the paddock and we had knocked lumps out of each other for 40-odd minutes in 46 degrees. It’s all about his way of building that resilience, building that robustness into the squad.

“He pretty much said to us after we played France in the last round of the Six Nations that the World Cup was going to be the hardest thing you will ever do. He was not lying.”

Wales find themselves in a World Cup pool alongside three of their opponents from Japan four years ago – Fiji, Australia and Georgia – with North underlining the importance of a strong start.

“We need to start with a win on Sunday, pure and simple,” he said.

“The squad is in a really good place. Everyone understands where we are, everyone is well drilled on how we want to go about our work.

“The training camps we have been on have been brutal, absolutely brutal. The default setting is never give in, keep moving, keep going, keep going, keep going.”

Rob Page believes Wales are heading into their crunch Euro 2024 qualifier in Latvia with renewed confidence after holding South Korea to a Cardiff draw.

Wales have now won only once in 13 games, but Page accentuated the positives after a goalless stalemate against opponents who reached the last 16 of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“There’s lots of positives and we take that momentum and confidence into a tough game on Monday,” Page said after Wales had returned to action following damaging Euro 2024 qualifying defeats by Armenia and Turkey in June.

“JJ (Jordan James) has had a very good debut and he’s had that experience under his belt against a world-class team.

“It’s building confidence ahead of Monday and getting rid of the disappointment of June’s camp.

“They’ve reacted in a positive way. We’ve had meetings through the week regards to the defenders and the goals we’ve conceded.

“We’ve kept a clean sheet against a technically good team with one of the best strikers (Son Heung-min) in world football, and at the end we could have won it 1-0 with Kieffer’s header.”

Substitute Kieffer Moore almost broke the deadlock after 66 minutes when his header came back off a post.

Skipper Aaron Ramsey, who has just entered the action on the hour, was unable to prod home the rebound from a yard out.

Brennan Johnson played the first 45 minutes after completing a £47.5million move from Nottingham Forest to Tottenham on deadline day as Page selected a far stronger side than most had expected before their Latvia test in Riga.

Page said: “There’s been lots said since the last camp. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion. It’s not a problem.

“I know what I’ve got in the changing room and the staff room. It’s about winning games of football, I get that. The transition we’re in, we’ve lost some world-class players.

“You would have seen the reaction of the players. I’m really pleased with them.

“I’m proud of how we defended. That was back to our identity.

“That’s the level of performance we reached in March, away against Croatia and at home against Latvia.

“We didn’t meet those standards in June and that’s what disappointed me the most, but we were back to those standards here.”

Jurgen Klinsmann was appointed as South Korea head coach in February and has failed to win any of his five games in charge – drawing three and losing two.

“It was a very good test for us and I am pleased with what the players showed,” said Klinsmann, the former Germany and United States boss.

“Wales had a back five that was very difficult to break. As a team we want to see development, we want to see them grow and every game helps us.

“This is the moment in these friendly games to try these things out, you can see that the team has changed since my first game in March.”

Corey Domachowski believes that Wales can reap the rewards from “15 weeks of hell” in their Rugby World Cup campaign.

The Cardiff prop is a Test rugby newcomer, making his debut against warm-up opponents England last month.

His impact was sufficient for Wales head coach Warren Gatland to select him not only in the final World Cup squad, but also hand him a place among the matchday 23 to face opening World Cup opponents Fiji on Sunday.

Wales have moved south from their Versailles training base to the first match venue of Bordeaux.

They were greeted by temperatures of 35 degrees as the heat in France shows no sign of relenting, and even though Sunday’s encounter does not start until 9pm local time, it is set to be only eight degrees cooler.

Wales, though, are fully prepared, with the players being put through their paces at punishing pre-World Cup camps in Switzerland and Turkey during a training phase that began in late May.

“We’ve trained hard for this,” Domachowski said.

“We had 15 weeks of hell, to be honest. It has been absolutely savage.

“And I genuinely think if we put what we’ve done on the training field on to the playing field, then we are going to be a tough team to beat.

“That’s something ‘Gats’ and the other coaches have drilled into us. We are not going to worry about any opposition. We know we have got quality in the squad.

“There is a lot of competition in that squad, and whoever goes on the field will give everything they’ve got for that jersey.”

Domachowski has already made a World Cup impression, leading the Wales players in a rendition of the Welsh hymn Calon Lan during the squad’s World Cup welcome ceremony in Versailles.

“As you can tell, I am a bit of a character, so ‘Nugget’ (team manager Martyn Williams) came up to me and asked me if I would lead it,” Domachowski added.

“So I said yes, and the boys were winding me up saying I could go on my own at first, but to be fair to ‘Gats’ he said we would all do it together.

“So I had to just lead it up, we had a couple of lessons and it went well.”

Wales warmed up for their crucial Euro 2024 qualifier in Latvia with a goalless stalemate against South Korea in Cardiff.

Substitute Kieffer Moore went the closest to breaking the deadlock by heading Chris Mepham’s second-half cross against a post.

But Wales failed to secure a morale-boosting victory that under-pressure manager Rob Page craved, and it is now only one win in 13 games either side of a disappointing World Cup for the Dragons.

Page had admitted a first-ever meeting with South Korea was a fixture he could have done without as it came four days before the vital Euros qualifier in Riga.

That comment upset many Wales supporters who had paid for tickets, but many chose to stay away as the Cardiff City Stadium was less than half full with the attendance given as 13,668.

The outcome in Riga will shape the rest of Wales’ Euro campaign – and possibly even Page’s future – with Wales running out of time to make up for June defeats by Armenia and Turkey in the race for automatic qualification.

With Euro group rivals playing on Friday, UEFA regulations stipulated that Wales had to fulfil this date on the international calendar with a friendly.

Page suggested he was not going to risks with his team selection ahead of Latvia and captain Aaron Ramsey sat on the bench for the opening hour.

But Page fielded a stronger line-up than many expected with Brennan Johnson starting just days after his £47.5million move from Nottingham Forest to Tottenham.

Ipswich’s Nathan Broadhead made his first Wales start alongside Johnson in attack. Birmingham midfielder Jordan James also made his maiden start in a three-man midfield.

Tottenham captain Son Heung-min was the star turn for South Korea with Bayern Munich defender Kim Min-jae also sprinkling stardust on the visitors.

South Korea reached the last 16 at the 2022 World Cup but new boss Jurgen Klinsmann is still waiting for a victory since his February appointment, with three draws and two defeats now on his report card.

Wales began brightly and were unfortunate not to take a 13th-minute lead.

Ethan Ampadu and Broadhead combined to find Wilson who, under pressure from Seol Young-woo, forced a smart save from Kim Seung-gyu.

There was a scare for Wales when Ben Davies, skipper for the night in Ramsey’s absence, was unceremoniously chopped down by Lee Jae-sung.

Kim Min-jae, the 6ft 3in centre-half known as ‘The Monster’ also sent Johnson sprawling to the ground with a blow to the ribs and was grateful that Scottish referee Willie Collum was in a lenient mood.

South Korea enjoyed nearly 60 per cent possession on a night when the sultry conditions saw cooling breaks taken midway through each half.

But that did not translate into danger around the home goal until the closing moments of the first period.

Lee Ki-je’s brilliant cross just evaded Hong Hyun-seok at the far before Son forced Danny Ward to hold his 25-yard attempt under the crossbar.

Wilson had another effort saved before Wales introduced Joe Morrell and Moore – both suspended for the Latvia qualifier – for Ampadu and Johnson at half-time.

The worry for Wales was that Son was starting to roam and dictate matters, the Spurs striker driving over from 20 yards before Hwang In-beom was similarly off target.

But Wales came within inches of taking the lead after 66 minutes.

Mepham crossed to Moore who headed against the post with Ramsey, who had only recently joined the action, unable to turn the ball home.

Broadhead saw his 20-yard attempt deflected wide and Joe Rodon rose well at the resulting a corner but his hopes of a first Wales goal were ended by a full-length Kim save.

Moore headed over with the game’s final touch, but there were more players going down with cramp than chances created in the closing minutes as a rather predictable draw was played out.

Warren Gatland says that Wales are “in a good place” as they prepare to launch their Rugby World Cup challenge against Fiji.

Gatland, taking charge of his fourth World Cup as Wales head coach, has been boosted by the return to fitness of 100-cap number eight Taulupe Faletau.

He will make his first Wales appearance since last season’s Six Nations after recovering from a calf muscle problem that sidelined him for Wales’ three-Test warm-up schedule.

Faletau goes straight into the starting line-up, packing down alongside back-row colleagues Aaron Wainwright and skipper Jac Morgan.

“We’ve had some good clarity about what we want to achieve and the way we want to play on the weekend,” Gatland said.

“The boys are looking sharp, there is a great environment in this group – players working for each other, enjoying each other’s company.

“We are in a good place and can’t wait to get out there and get our Rugby World Cup campaign under way.”

While Faletau returns, though, hooker and Morgan’s co-captain Dewi Lake does not make the matchday 23.

The Ospreys hooker suffered a knee injury during Wales’ encounter against England at Twickenham last month, and Gatland added: “The medical team has done a fantastic job getting Dewi back to full fitness.

“He has not had as much training under his belt as the other hookers since he picked up that knock to his knee, so Ryan Elias and Elliot Dee are selected for us for this game.”

Elias starts, and there are also opportunities for the likes of centre Nick Tompkins and scrum-half Gareth Davies.

Flanker Tommy Reffell, meanwhile, has been named among the replacements, being passed fit after missing training on Wednesday due to a knock.

There are five World Cup debutants in Gatland’s starting line-up and it will be the fifth successive World Cup where Wales and Fiji meet.

Centre George North joins a select group of Welsh players to feature in four World Cups, emulating Alun Wyn Jones, Stephen Jones and Gethin Jenkins.

Scarlets number nine Davies has won Gatland’s starting vote ahead of Tomos Williams as he clocks up World Cup number three.

“Twelve months ago I probably wouldn’t have thought I would be involved in the first game of a World Cup, but anything can happen in rugby, as we all know.” Davies said.

“I have worked extremely hard over the last year to work myself into contention, and hopefully I can show that on Sunday.

“Playing in a World Cup is the pinnacle. We have a few young guys in the squad – they are really excited about it – and plenty of experience.

“Fiji are going to be a very tough team to beat, but it is a challenge we are looking forward to.”

Since being dumped out of the World Cup by Fiji 16 years ago in Nantes, Wales have reeled off three successive wins.

Sunday’s encounter is huge in the context of a group where Australia and ever-improving Georgia will also be vying for qualification.

Jonathan Humphreys wants the Wales forwards to be remembered for accuracy and a relentless approach at the Rugby World Cup.

The Wales pack can expect an immediate test of its capability against opening Pool C opponents Fiji in Bordeaux on Sunday.

While Fiji are renowned for players with dazzling skills, their set-piece game has improved considerably under head coach Simon Raiwalui.

Georgia’s revered forward power awaits Wales in their final group game, with Australia also likely to pose plenty of questions during what will be a fiercely-contested pool.

“We have been working for 16 weeks towards a goal, which is this game,” Wales assistant coach and forwards specialist Humphreys said.

“We’ve tried lots of combinations out and a few different things. Those three (warm-up) games allowed us to do that.

“We are well aware this is the judgement time for us. We feel we are pretty well-prepared and we know what’s coming.

“Two words would be accurate and relentless in everything you do, on the field and off the field.”

Humphreys and his fellow Wales coaches were at Twickenham last month when Fiji claimed a famous 30-22 victory over England.

He added: “I was really impressed with them. They went behind early, came back at them (England) and they have got some incredibly powerful runners who are tough to stop.

“Physically, they are in incredible shape and they are going to be a tough, tough challenge for us.

“They have had five or six warm-up games, and the set-piece is a strength of theirs at the moment.

“We are well aware of what’s coming, we know hopefully what they are about and we have prepared for it.”

Wales boss Warren Gatland has reported a clean bill of health among the 33-strong World Cup squad after a number of players had been sidelined due to knocks.

That list included hookers Dewi Lake (knee) and Ryan Elias (hamstring), while star number eight Taulupe Faletau took no part in the warm-up schedule because of a calf muscle issue.

“In fairness to our medical staff, when they did pick up the injuries the return dates were spot-on really,” Humphreys said. “It has been good to have everyone available for selection.

“We are pretty confident in our ability and what we can achieve. It’s about going out there and doing it, and that is the point we are at right now.

“We are in a good spot. Everybody is a bit on edge, but in a good way, and training this morning was like that. It has been a long time getting here.”

The hot weather in France continues to be a major talking point, with tournament bosses understood to be considering implementing player drinks breaks during games.

Temperatures at Wales’ training base in Versailles have not dipped below 32 degrees this week, while Bordeaux is set to be even warmer.

Wales, though, feel ready for any eventuality, having prepared at punishing training camps in Switzerland and Turkey for the competition.

Prop Dillon Lewis said: “We spent a bit of time in Turkey where it was a fair bit warmer than here.

“It was quite good we got that in the bank early and it allows us to adapt to this a bit quicker, and not affect us as much as it could have done.”

Rob Page says he will not be “influenced by negativity” with his Wales tenure set to reach a critical juncture.

Page has come under increasing pressure after an awful World Cup last autumn when Wales scored only once and finished bottom of their group and a Euro 2024 qualifying campaign that hit the rocks with defeats to Armenia and Turkey in June.

Although Wales have lost talismanic captain Gareth Bale and others in recent months, many fans have turned on Page – a national hero just over 12 months ago as the Dragons qualified for their first World Cup since 1958 – and used social media to call for his dismissal.

Page signed a four-year deal only 12 months ago and received the public backing of Football Association of Wales chief executive Noel Mooney after that miserable June double-header.

But Page, who celebrates his 49th birthday on Sunday, is certain to come under intense scrutiny unless Wales revive their Euro 2024 qualification ambitions by beating Group D minnows Latvia in Riga on September 11.

“Football is what it is,” said Page, who first has the opportunity to improve a record of one win in 12 games in a Cardiff friendly with Jurgen Klinsmann’s South Korea on Thursday.

“I don’t need people to tell me I’ve done well. I look at myself in the mirror and, as long as I’m doing the the best I can, that’s all I ask for.

“I can’t do things to please other people because you are then riding the rollercoaster of emotions and I’d rather not do that.

“I played until I was 35 so I understand what social media is, but I don’t read it. I don’t read any articles from ex-players or reporters, because it will inevitably cloud your judgement and then you are going to be influenced by negativity.

“I don’t need that in my life. I just want to stay focused on the job we’ve got and that is to get three points in Latvia.”

Wales have won only once since beating Ukraine in the 2022 World Cup play-off final, a 1-0 home victory over Latvia in March.

Page insists Wales currently find themselves in a similar position to when John Toshack blooded so many youngsters between 2004 and 2010 and gave the likes of Bale, Joe Allen and current captain Aaron Ramsey their international debuts.

“This stat of one win in 12 keeps getting thrown at me, which frustrates the life out of me,” he said. “That is on paper. Yes.

“But when you strip that away you see the opposition – playing Belgium, Holland and Poland twice because we got promoted from League B to League A in the Nations League and some were played around a World Cup play-off final.

“So, let’s have a little bit of common sense with some of the fixtures we were up against and manage expectations.

“We’ve lost arguably one of the world’s best players in Gareth Bale, some big characters on the playing side in Chris Gunter and Joe Allen, and now it’s about developing and evolving.

“My remit now is to get the next batch of young kids through and it’s not going to happen overnight. Of course we don’t want too many results like Armenia – that is the one that has haunted me. ”

Wales trail group leaders Turkey by six points in Euro 2024 qualifying and are three adrift of second-placed Armenia, who have a game in hand on Page’s side.

Group favourites Croatia are level on Wales with four points but have played two fewer games and, with a top-two spot appearing improbable, the best the Dragons can seemingly hope for is play-off place through their Nations League status.

Page said: “It’s probably the first test I’d have had since I’ve taken over.

“Everything’s been rosy – we’ve had success, promotions and qualifications and this is the first time I’ve felt these two months have dragged – but I can’t wait for Sunday (the camp) to come.”

Wales know they are in safe hands when Warren Gatland leads them to his fourth Rugby World Cup as head coach.

But it could prove to be the New Zealander’s biggest challenge of all after a difficult 12 months on and off the pitch.

Since Wales claimed a first victory over the Springboks in South Africa last year, they have won just three out of 13 Tests.

Wayne Pivac left his role as head coach following an autumn campaign when Wales lost at home to Georgia, before Gatland returned for a second stint in the top job.

There was also a significant backdrop of major financial issues and contractual uncertainty throughout the Welsh professional game, so much so that a threatened players’ strike dominated the build-up to Wales’ Guinness Six Nations clash with England in February.

A miserable fifth-placed finish in the tournament followed, but since naming an expanded training squad more than three months ago, Gatland has had time and space to gradually piece things back together through punishing camps in Switzerland and Turkey, plus through three World Cup warm-up games.

Underpinned by a World Cup record with Wales of two semi-final appearances and one quarter-final, Gatland knows the ropes and he is unquestionably relishing the task that lies ahead.

“I think if I look back on the Six Nations and all the things that were going on, I probably needed to let things unfold a bit and not be as direct or demanding as I might have normally been,” he said.

“The fact that things have settled down and a lot of new players have come in, the way that we’ve been so much more accountable for how we do things and demanding standards, that has been brilliant.

“As a group, we are in a good place. I promise you now, we will surprise some people.

“It is one step at a time. It’s about getting out of your pool first, and then see where you are. You don’t look too far ahead.

“I think every team is focusing on that – get out of your pool and take it one step at a time.”

Fiji are first up for Wales in Bordeaux, followed by Portugal, Australia and Georgia. Portugal are the only team not in Wales’ World Cup group of four years ago.

Gatland added: “We are pretty clear how we want to play against Fiji. We know how dangerous they are.

“They will have had five warm-up games before the World Cup, so they are going to be rugby-fit. We are all well aware of how important that first game is.

“If you can win that game you get some momentum, and then you can get some confidence, and hopefully you have a chance to win the group.”

Sixteen members of Gatland’s 33-strong World Cup squad, including co-captains Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake, have never previously never set foot on rugby union’s biggest global stage.

But there are also four cap centurions in George North, who heads to a fourth World Cup, Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny and Taulupe Faletau, plus another six with more than 50 caps.

“It was trying to get the balance right with the experience,” Gatland said. “Some of the discussion was around what experienced players we felt we needed to take with some of the youngsters who have come into the squad.

“The beauty of this World Cup is that we do get some more breathing space with the time between games.

“The first game and the second games are a short turnaround, and then we’ve got an eight-day turnaround to Australia and then 13 days to the Georgia game.

“In the past it has been a challenge when you have had a four-day turnaround. It is a little bit more of a luxury in terms of that, so hopefully it gives us an opportunity to keep players fit and to freshen some players up between games.”

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