Wales seek to bounce back from two defeats against Fiji

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Wales will seek to bounce back from two autumnal losses to New Zealand and South Africa when they take on perennial Rugby Word Cup pool opponents Fiji in Cardiff on Sunday.

The Welsh have won 10 of 12 games they have played against the Pacific islanders, their sole loss coming in the 2007 World Cup.

But games have a tendancy of being closer encounters than the statistics show, with four of Wales' victories by seven points or less.

"They are a passionate rugby nation," said Wales coach Wayne Pivac, who also took charge of Fiji between 2004-07.

In Pivac's first year at the helm, Fiji were edged 11-10 by Wales in a 2005 autumn international in Cardiff, months after he helped the sevens team to the World Cup title.

"Sevens was the number one sport followed by 15s and they'll come on Sunday and relish the opportunity to play in front of a big crowd. I know they'll be looking forward to it," the New Zealander said.

Pivac's compatriot Vern Cotter is the coach of Fiji, but has not made the trip to the northern hemisphere because of Covid-19 travel restrictions, along with a raft of players based in the southern hemisphere.

In situ will be Welshman Gareth Baber, recalled on a temporary basis after leading Fiji to Olympic sevens gold at the Tokyo Games.

Pivac insisted the absence of Cotter and missing players would not detract from the fixture.

"In a way, my experience is that the best players are in the northern hemisphere, up here earning big money," he said.

"They'll have a strong side, there is no doubt about that. It's unfortunate Vern can't come and one or two of the management staff, but since my time there Fiji have come a long way.

"They're a side that you can't rest against. The offloading game is second to none. The Fijians love ball-in-hand and they're very skilful," Pivac said, with Fiji having beaten Spain 43-13 last weekend.

- Split loyalties -

Stand-in Fiji coach Baber, a Cardiff-born ex-scrum-half and a former coach of the capital city region, admitted his family -- who will be present at the Principality Stadium -- would be supporting the Pacific team.

"We are in Cardiff and we're playing against Wales, but ultimately, my response is to really get a performance this weekend and create history with this group of players," Baber said.

Wales, he said, "will be physical and they will try and play a quick game. So we're working on things to counter that".

Baber added it wasn't the time to read too much into this game ahead of another Rugby World Cup pool draw in France in 2023.

"They've played each other in successive World Cup since 2007 and it's going to continue in the next World Cup, so it makes it all very interesting.

"But the reality is that both teams are at different stages in their development... to look into form too deeply at this point in time would be probably jumping the gun in some regards."

Fiji have made seven changes from the team that beat Spain, with Bristol Bears centre Semi Radradra absent through injury although Clermont prop Peni Ravai starts.

Ellis Jenkins has been named Wales captain with highly-rated teenager Christ Tshiunza set to make his debut from the bench.

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