Rob Howley: Wales will make changes for Fiji match
Wales assistant coach reveals changes have been mentioned, but it will still be a strong squad to face Pacific Islanders
Rob Howley insists that Wales will field a strong squad against Fiji despite a number of injury concerns after Saturday’s 33-28 defeat to Australia.
The Wales assistant coach expects changes to be made to the match-day 23 with an opportunity for players to put their hand up next year’s Rugby World Cup against their lowest ranked opposition of the Dove Men Series.
“Warren has mentioned there will be some changes,” Howley said.
“Whatever side is selected will be strong. There will be a couple of opportunities for players, but expect a strong side to be selected.”
Racing Metro lock Luke Charteris is available for selection after he was released back to his club last week to allow him to be available for the final Test against South Africa on 29 November.
Experienced scrum-half Mike Phillips, Wasps lock Bradley Davies and Ospreys number 8 Dan Baker are also in contention to start should head coach Warren Gatland rest Rhys Webb, Alun Wyn Jones and Taulupe Faletau for the clash with New Zealand a week later.
Wales should also welcome back centres Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams, who both missed out against the Wallabies as they came back from shoulder injuries.
Gloucester outside-half James Hook, who was called up to the squad on Sunday, is expected to be on the bench with Scarlets outside-half Rhys Priestland set to win his first start for Wales since the defeat to England in March as Dan Biggar recovers from a groin injury.
Priestland, who led Wales to the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-finals and the 2012 Six Nations Grand Slam, had been Wales’ first-choice 10 at the start of this year’s Six Nations, starting the first four matches, before losing his place to Biggar for the final match against Scotland, and missed Wales’ 2-0 series defeat in South Africa in June after knee surgery.
“Competition for places is key and it’s nice to have them back,” Howley said. “It’s nice to have decisions to make in terms of selections.
“James comes in with an open chance. Rhys will probably start with James possibly on the bench.
“It’s nice to have him in the squad, and I’m sure James will want the opportunity to say: ‘I should have been selected in the squad in the first place.'”
Scarlets full-back Liam Williams is also expected to return to his preferred position after starting on the left wing against the Australians, with Toulon’s Leigh Halfpenny undergoing return-to-play protocols after leaving the field in the first half.
“Leigh is going through his concussion protocols and we are hopeful he will be able to train later in the week,” Howley added.
“If he is not right, it is the same sort of situation and principle we had last week with Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams. We have to put safety first, and make sure this is the same situation with all our players.
“Dan has had a scan today, and we are waiting for the results. Hopefully, it will not be as bad as we expected, and hopefully he will play a part again.
“I would expect Dan to be available, if not for this weekend, then for the last two matches.”
As with last weekend’s opponents, Fiji are also in Wales’ Rugby World Cup pool next year and the Wales coaches are hoping that the scoreline is more akin to the 66-0 win at the 2011 Rugby World Cup than the 16-16 draw at the Millennium Stadium the autumn before.
“The last time we played them with our near full-strength side we won 66-0,” Howley said. “The one thing that changed on that day was our attitude.
“I have no doubt our attitude will be right on Saturday with people playing for World Cup places.
“It will be key on Saturday when you play against Fiji with their physicality.”
The Wales team to face Fiji will be announced on Tuesday morning.