Wales v Fiji match preview: World Cup questions to be answered in Bordeaux heat

Wales players training in the searing heat of Bordeaux
Wales players training in the searing heat of Bordeaux

Rugby World Cup 2023: Fiji v Wales

Venue: Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux Date: Sunday, 10 Sept Kick-off: 20:00 BST

Coverage: Live BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sounds, BBC Sport website & app; live text commentary on BBC Sport website & app.

World Cup fever has struck Bordeaux and Wales' defining day has arrived.

The city has been dominated by red and green jerseys to mark the double-header at the Stade de Bordeaux on the opening weekend of the tournament.

Ireland's comfortable victory over Romania was the warm-up act to the main event of Wales and Fiji's Pool C Sunday showdown.

That will be the view of the thousands of Welsh fans who have travelled here, maybe more in hope than expectation following a troubled year for Welsh rugby.

Wales have waited for their moment to arrive but it's finally time for the burning questions to be answered in the Bordeaux heat.

Is the world-class Taulupe Faletau match-fit? Will Wales' brutal training camps pay dividends? Has Warren Gatland returned to revitalise his adopted nation during a second stint in charge and, will his prediction of an "under the radar" side achieving "something special" in France, materialise?

There are also lingering question marks about the opposition. Will they maintain the discipline and continue the set-piece improvement to go alongside their traditional Fijian flair?

Are Fiji favourites against a Tier one nation like Wales after rising above them and Pool C rivals Australia in the world rankings?

There have also been accounts of Fiji's famous World Cup win over Wales in Nantes in 2007, the last time the two sides faced each other in France. Sixteen years ago, that was the final group game that saw Wales knocked out of the tournament.

The Wales and Fiji class of 2023 meet each other in a contest which could prove as pivotal in a pool that also includes Australia, Georgia and Portugal.

It has been a long time since Wales have had such a critical World Cup opening game where the result could define the rest of the tournament.

What happens on a sweltering Sunday evening amid the bouncing Bordeaux backdrop could dictate just that.

Gatland effect

Warren Gatland issuing instructions at the final training session before Wales' Rugby World Cup opening game against Fiji
Warren Gatland issuing instructions at the final training session before Wales' Rugby World Cup opening game against Fiji

Few would have predicted Warren Gatland would be leading Wales into this World Cup campaign, especially after his first 12-year stint as head coach ended after the 2019 campaign in Japan.

Wales know they are in safe hands as Gatland leads them to his fourth World Cup with this side. He has sought to breed confidence into his squad by saying before the August warm-up tests: "I am telling you this team will do something pretty special [in France]. I promise you now, we will surprise some people."

This 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 in July 2022, 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, with Gatland then returning for a second spell in the top job.

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

A fifth-placed finish in the tournament was followed by the retirements of stalwarts Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric and injury to Six Nations skipper Ken Owens.

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, although those finished with a crushing defeat by world champions South Africa.

Underpinned by his 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 as he thrives amid adversity.

Youth and experience

There are 10 players in the 23-man squad to face Fiji who will be featuring in the World Cup for the first time. Five of them start, including flanker and captain Jac Morgan, who has evoked memories of the 2011 campaign in New Zealand, when Wales were captained by a 22-year-old Sam Warburton.

But you also cannot buy experience, and such a commodity could prove priceless for Wales in the heat of Sunday's battle.

It will be an occasion for cool heads and calm decision-making, so it should come as no surprise if the likes of George North, Dan Biggar and fit-again Faletau make significant contributions.

The cap centurions boast 323 Wales international appearances between them, with North among an elite band to feature in four World Cups.

It is Biggar's swansong before he retires from international rugby, and number eight Faletau is back from an injury lay-off after not featuring in the World Cup warm-up games. They could hold the keys to victory.

Familiar foes

Fiji celebrate defeating England for the first time in August 2023
Fiji defeated England for the first time in August 2023

It will be a fifth successive World Cup at which the teams meet, with Wales having reeled off three successive wins since suffering that tournament-ending defeat by Fiji 16 years ago.

Wales triumphed 66-0 at the 2011 tournament, and although the two latest meetings were much closer contests, they found a way to cross the finishing line.

Fiji are fresh from humbling England at Twickenham, while Wales have won only two Tests this year, setting up an encounter that should be full of twists and turns.

The Fiji set-piece game has undoubtedly improved under head coach Simon Raiwalui, but it is still an ability to cut teams apart through razor-sharp running angles and raw physical power that makes them such a threat.

Players like Semi Radradra and Viliami Mata can cause havoc with ridiculous ease, and there is no doubt Wales could have their hands full defensively.

If Gatland's team get on the front foot early, then they can boss the game tactically, yet that is far easier said than done against these dangerous opponents.

Heat of battle, painting Bordeaux red

Gatland has no doubt Wales are fully conditioned for Bordeaux's blistering heat. So much so that he admitted he was not keen on water breaks that have since been introduced by World Rugby.

Gatland insisted he would not complain about the policy but was just merely pointing out he wants to back the physical conditioning of his side.

Wales are aiming to reap the benefits of punishing conditions at training camps in Switzerland and Turkey that formed a central part of their tournament warm-up.

Temperatures have topped 30 degrees and despite a kick-off of 9pm local time, high humidity is still expected, although the Wales squad would have woken up to the sound of some rain on Sunday morning.

The contest is taking place in a city that already holds a special place in Welsh sporting folklore in an opening game of a major tournament.

This was the venue where Chris Coleman's Wales football team defeated Slovakia in the first game of Euro 2016, with goals from Gareth Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu beginning their historic run to the semi-finals.

Seven years on from that glorious summer, thousands have travelled aiming to see if the nation's rugby counterparts follow suit and paint Bordeaux red once more. Wales' date with destiny awaits.


  • Wales have lost just one of their previous 13 Test matches against Fiji with 11 wins and a draw. Wales have won each of their last five games after the loss came in the Rugby World Cup in 2007 in Nantes.

  • This will be the fifth match between Wales and Fiji in the Rugby World Cup with Wales bouncing back from the 2007 defeat with victories in 2011, 2015 and 2019.

  • Wales won the last fixture between the sides 38-23 at Cardiff's Principality Stadium in November 2021.


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

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

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

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

Referee: Matthew Carley (England).