Preview: Fiji edge out Wales in epic clash
September 29, 2007

Wales captain Gareth Thomas will win his 100th cap in Saturday's World Cup eliminator against Fiji after making a rapid return from injury.

Less than a fortnight ago Thomas feared his World Cup was over after he suffered rib cartilage damage in a late tackle from Stirling Mortlock during Wales' 32-20 defeat to Australia.

Even when scans proved the injury was not as bad as first expected, there was only thought to be an outside chance Thomas would be fit to face the Fijians.

But he has been in full contact training this week and replaces Kevin Morgan at full-back to bring up a century of Test caps in a must-win encounter for Wales.

At stake is a place in the World Cup quarter-finals and head coach Gareth Jenkins said: "No side would want to go into a game of this magnitude without its captain, it's as simple as that.

"Gareth's importance to this team cannot be understated, he's reached an historic landmark but no-one will be more focused than him on match day.

"His stature and composure on the rugby field will be invaluable to us in a game that could offer us such high rewards.

"We are within touching distance of a place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, we need to respect what Fiji offer and maintain our focus and our professionalism throughout and there is no reason why we cannot come away with a win.''

Thomas will lead a side out in Nantes featuring seven changes from Wales' 72-18 win over Japan last Thursday.

The biggest surprise is the inclusion of Ospreys lock Ian Evans, who will start his first game of rugby since December having played 28 minutes coming off the bench against Japan.

Evans has spent nearly 10 months on the sidelines recovering from shoulder and collar-bone injuries but is held in such high regard that he was still included in the World Cup squad.

He will partner Alun-Wyn Jones in the second row, while Matthew Rees returns at hooker and Chris Horsman keeps the tight-head duties with Adam Jones recovering from a foot injury.

As expected, Dwayne Peel returns at scrum-half despite Mike Phillips' man-of-the-match performance against Japan, while Mark Jones replaces Dafydd James on the wing and Tom Shanklin comes back into the centre to partner James Hook.

Jenkins explained: "Ian Evans showed some of the huge potential he possesses last week, he is a dynamic player who could be a world class second row of the future.

''James Hook starts at inside centre and his talent is unquestioned both inside and outside our squad, but we will be looking for him to play heads up rugby against Fiji and his partnership with Stephen Jones and Tom Shanklin will be important to us.

''We've made some tough decisions but as we always say we have selected the team we think has the best chance of winning this game and now call for the nation to get behind us.''

Wales have not risked flanker Jonathan Thomas, who has a broken little finger, and kept the same back row with Alix Popham at number eight, Colin Charvis at blind-side flanker and Martyn Williams on the open-side.

Jenkins expects a ferocious start from Fiji and insisted Wales cannot be sluggish out of the blocks, as they have been in their opening three World Cup matches.

''Our success on Saturday will depend on the full squad of players we have selected, with the impact we are able to make from the bench just a crucial part of what we will be aiming to achieve,'' added Jenkins.

''We will be able to make a real impact if necessary with players like Michael Phillips, Michael Owen and Duncan Jones able to come on and change the game if necessary.

''But most importantly we must start well with the team selected, put in a good first 30 minutes and build our game as we know and have proved we can.''

Fiji have returned to full strength for Saturday's World Cup showdown with Wales in Nantes.

Head coach Ilie Tabua has made 11 changes from the second-string side beaten 55-12 by Australia last weekend.

Captain Mosese Rauluni returns at scrum-half, while Leicester centre Seru Rabeni, Saracens full-back Kameli Ratuvou and Gloucester flanker Akapusi Qera are all included.

Former Biarritz winger Sireli Bobo is on the bench after being called into the squad earlier this week as an injury replacement.

Gareth Thomas will become only the eighth player to have won 100 Test caps when Wales take on Fiji in Saturday's World Cup Pool B clash.

Thomas, who made his international debut in 1995, will become the first Welshman to achieve the landmark and he joins an exclusive club.

Players who have earned 100 caps for their country:
George Gregan (Australia 1994-2007*) 137.
Fabien Pelous (France 1995-2007*) 115.
Jason Leonard (England 1990-2004) 114.
Philippe Sella (France 1982-1995) 112.
Stephen Larkham (Australia 1996-2007*) 102.
David Campese (Australia 1982-1996) 101.
Alessandro Troncon (Italy 1994-2007*) 100.

* Still playing and involved at this World Cup.

*The winners will face South Africa in the World Cup quarter-final in Marseille on Sunday, October 7.

*If the match ends in a draw, Wales will progress on points difference.

*Wales have never lost to Fiji in eight meetings.

*Wales won their last encounter 11-10 at the Millennium Stadium in 2005.

*Wales failed to qualify from the pool stages at the 1991 and 1995 World Cups.

*Fiji reached the 1987 World Cup quarter-finals.

*Fiji head coach Ilivasi Tabua played at two World Cups for two different countries - Australia in 1995 and Fiji in 1999.

Wales: G Thomas (Cardiff Blues, capt); M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), D Peel (Llanelli Scarlets); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Llanelli Scarlets), C Horsman (Worcester), AW Jones (Ospreys), I Evans (Ospreys), C Charvis (Newport Gwent Dragons), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), A
Popham (Llanelli Scarlets).

Replacements: TR Thomas (Cardiff Blues), D Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), M Owen (Newport Gwent Dragons), M Phillips (Ospreys), J Robinson (Cardiff Blues), D James (Llanelli Scarlets).

Fiji: K Ratuvou; V Delasau, S Rabeni, S Bai, I Neivua; N Little, M Rauluni (capt); G Dewes, S Koto, J Railomo, K Leawere, I Rawaqa, S Naevo, A Qera, S Koyamaibole.

Replacements: V Sauturaga, H Qiodravu, W Lewaravu, A Ratuva, J Daunivucu, N Ligairi, S Bobo.

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