Wales keen to make Fiji go boo hoo
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — A little booing has gone a long way in Wales.
Jeers by a minority of fans during the 33-28 loss to Australia last weekend has taken up most of the attention of Wales in the buildup to the 50th anniversary test with Fiji at Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Criticism has come almost daily out of the Wales camp for the home fans who booed Rhys Priestland as he entered the match in the second half for injured flyhalf Dan Biggar. Commentators also rounded on fans who booed Wallabies pivot Bernard Foley during his goalkicks.
Wales coach Warren Gatland noted social media critics almost drove Priestland to quit rugby in recent years, and he hoped he “plays well and puts two fingers up” to his knockers.
Defence coach Shaun Edwards added, “You boo one of us, you boo all of us.”
“If you boo Rhys Priestland, you boo myself, you boo Warren Gatland, you boo Leigh Halfpenny, you boo the Welsh jersey. I am not very happy about it,” Edwards added.
“If people are around those people in the crowd, and they are silly enough to do it again, I would like to think that the rest of the crowd would let them know what they think about them.”
Teammates have also come to the defence of Priestland, who has been silent. He starred for Wales in the 2011 World Cup and 2012 Six Nations Grand Slam, but he’s been affected by inconsistency and injuries since then. With Biggar and goalkicker Leigh Halfpenny nobbled by injuries, the pressure is on Priestland to repay Gatland’s faith, as he should be the starter and goalkicker after Fiji against New Zealand and South Africa, too.
He’s among eight changes to the side which lost to Australia, but Gatland fully believed they still have the firepower to win. There was similar confidence on the occasion of Fiji’s last visit in 2010, when Wales made nine changes and Fiji led 13-6 at halftime and hit an injury-time penalty to draw 16-16. All of the Wales side was booed that night.
Fiji began its northern tour with a 40-15 loss to France in Marseille. The pack, led by flanker Akapusi Qera, trained with Georgia near Toulouse and held its own against the French, and is unchanged. The backs were caught short on the flanks and succumbed to a couple of clever chips, and have been bolstered by the injection of big men Josh Matavesi at 10, Nemani Nadolo at 12, and Vereniki Goneva at 13.
Matavesi has played flyhalf for Fiji once, five years ago, in his debut international season, after he missed out on England Under-20s. His confidence was typical.
“If the ball comes scrappy, I’m not afraid to take it up the guts against Rhys Priestland,” Matavesi said. “Our system is a little bit crazy at times. But it’s what Fiji want, so I am happy. I just have to give it to the boys outside me, and let them do their magic.”
Wales: Liam Williams, Alex Cuthbert, Scott Williams, Jamie Roberts, George North, Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Taulupe Faletau, Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate, Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies, Samson Lee, Scott Baldwin, Gethin Jenkins (captain). Reserves: Emyr Phillips, Nicky Smith, Rhodri Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, James King, Rhodri Williams, James Hook, Cory Allen.
Fiji: Metuisela Talebula, Waisea Nayacalevu, Vereniki Goneva, Nemani Nadolo, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Josh Matavesi, Nikola Matawalu; Masi Matadigo, Akapusi Qera (captain), Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Api Ratuniyarawa, Leone Nakarawa, Manasa Saulo, Sunia Koto, Campese Ma;afu. Reserves: Tuapati Talemaitoga, Jerry Yanuyanutawa, Isei Colati, Tevita Cavubati, Mala Ravulo, Henry Seniloli, Jonetani Ralulu, Timoci Nagusa.