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Everything you need to know as Wales take on Portugal in their second World Cup match

16 Sep 2023 11 minute read
Wales’ George North celebrates with team-mates after scoring their side’s second try
David Davies/PA Wire

Simon Thomas

With the nerves of their fans having finally stopped jangling following the dramatic 32-26 victory over Fiji, Wales now move on to their second World Cup fixture against Portugal. Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s Pool C clash.

Match details

After facing Fiji in Bordeaux, Wales have now travelled some 500 miles from the south west over to the city of Nice on France’s south eastern coast on the Mediterranean Sea. So it’s the French Riviera for Gatland’s gang and their supporters.

Again, not a bad spot for a rugby trip, with Nice known for its glittering beaches, picturesque old town, Art-Deco buildings and the famous Promenade des Anglais.

The venue for the game is the 35,000-capacity Stade de Nice, home to the city’s Ligue 1 football club OGC Nice. It staged matches during UEFA Euro 2016 and FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019.

The only previous rugby Test to be played there was France’s 32-3 win over Scotland in August 2019, but Toulon have also played some Top 14 matches at the stadium.

The match kicks off at 5.45pm local time (4.45pm over here) when the temperature is likely to be a manageable 24 degrees.

Wales will be looking to secure a bonus point win and enhance their points difference as that could yet be decisive in this group. You wouldn’t put it past Fiji to beat Australia in Saint Etienne on Sunday, so you could end up with three sides with three wins by the time all the pool matches have been played. Then it would be time for the calculators.

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Louis Rees-Zammit, Mason Grady, Johnny Williams, Rio Dyer; Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Nicky Smith, Dewi Lake (capt), Dillon Lewis, Christ Tshiunza, Dafydd Jenkins, Dan Lydiate, Taulupe Faletau, Tommy Reffell.

Replacements: Ryan Elias, Corey Domachowski, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Taine Basham, Gareth Davies, Sam Costelow, Josh Adams.

Portugal: Nuno Sousa Guedes; Vincent Pinto, José Lima, Tomás Appleton (capt), Rodrigo Marta; Jerónimo Portela, Samuel Marques; Francisco Fernandes Moreira, Mike Tadjer, Anthony Alves, José Madeira, Steve Cerqueira, João Granate, Rafael Simões, Nicolás Martins.

Replacements: David Costa, Lionel Campergue, Diogo Hasse Ferreira, Martim Belo, David Wallis, Pedro Lucas, Josua Moura, Raffaele Storti.


There were always likely to be sweeping changes following the brutally physical encounter with Fiji and the six-day turnaround and so it has proved, with a number of front-line players being rested to allow them to freshen up ahead of next week’s huge game against Australia.

There are no fewer than 13 changes to the starting line-up, with Taulupe Faletau and Louis Rees-Zammit the only survivors from the side that took the field in Bordeaux.

Retaining Faletau at No 8 makes a lot of sense as his hour against Fiji was his first rugby since April due to a calf problem, so he needs more game time.

With only five back three players in the squad, someone was going to have to double up there and it’s winger Rees-Zammit who is sent out again.

Looking at the men coming in, it’s a particularly big game for hooker Dewi Lake who missed the group opener due to limited training time following a knee injury.

For one thing, he skippers the side and he will also know he has his work cut out to force his way into the XV to face the Wallabies with Ryan Elias having gone so well against Fiji and Elliot Dee having delivered a try-scoring cameo off the bench.

What Lake offers as a real point of difference is his carrying and his work over ball. You can expect that to be showcased as he looks to demonstrate he is now back up to speed.

Wales’ Dafydd Jenkins (right) wins a lineout Jane Barlow PA Images

There’s also an opportunity for Dafydd Jenkins to stake a further claim to start in the second row against Australia having made a good impression as a sub versus the Fijians.

For others, it’s more a case of trying to make the 23 for next week in Lyon.

Gareth Anscombe makes a welcome return at fly-half having missed the warm-up campaign with a thumb injury and he has a chance now to push to be Dan Biggar’s cover, with his versatility aiding his bench prospects.

Gatland says the 32-year-old is looking sharp and is excited, so we wait to see how he pulls the strings.

The likes of Nicky Smith, Rio Dyer, Tommy Reffell, Mason Grady and sub Taine Basham will be others hoping to stake claims for involvement versus the Wallabies.

Then it’s a landmark occasion for scrum-half Tomos Williams, who wins his 50th cap, while Leigh Halfpenny will become the oldest back to play a World Cup game for Wales. At 34 years, eight months and 26 days, he will surpass Shane Williams, who was a month younger when he figured at the 2011 tournament.

The one notable absentee this weekend is prop Henry Thomas, who is the only member of the 33-man squad not to have been selected for either of the opening two group matches. One suspected there had to be an injury issue behind this and Gatland confirmed as much, saying the Montpellier tighthead was originally due to start but isn’t being risked because of a tight hamstring.

What do we know about Portugal?

This will be a second World Cup campaign for the team known as Os Lobos (The Wolves) who made their debut at the 2007 tournament.

Their hopes of getting to France looked to have been dashed in March of last year when they lost 33-28 to Iberian rivals Spain in Madrid.

But then the Spanish were booted out for fielding an ineligible player in matches against the Netherlands. So Portugal got a second chance as they were promoted to third place in the Rugby Europe Championship 2021 and 2022 combined standings.

That meant them heading into a four-team qualification tournament in Dubai last November, competing with the USA, Hong Kong and Kenya for the final remaining place at the World Cup.

After beating Hong Kong 42-14 and hammering Kenya 85-0, the Portuguese needed just to draw against USA thanks to their superior points difference. That’s precisely what they did – in the most dramatic fashion – with scrum-half Samuel Marques securing a 16-16 with the last kick of the match to signal scenes of wild celebration.

So what’s their form been like since then?

Well, during this year’s Rugby Europe Championship, they beat Belgium (54-17), Poland (65-3), Romania (38-20) and Spain (27-10) to set up a title decider against Georgia, which they lost 38-11.

They had just the one warm-up game this summer, but that went very well, as they defeated the USA 46-20, running in seven tries. Overall, it’s a run of results that sees them lie 16th in the world rankings.

On the coaching front, they have a familiar figure at the helm in former French international Patrice Lagisquet. The man nicknamed “The Bayonne Express” won 46 caps on the wing for Les Blues between 1983 and 1991.

With the former flyer as their head coach, it is perhaps not surprising the Lobos play in a manner akin to some of the flamboyant France teams of his era.

Skipper Tomás Appleton sums it up by saying: “With our DNA, we’re not physically the strongest players in the world, but we’re really fast and people can expect a high-tempo game from us.

We love to play quick, fast, ball-in-hand rugby, with the backs getting plenty of quality ball to score with, and we’re going to show that at the World Cup.”

The team Portugal have selected to face Wales shows just two changes from the side that started against the USA in the Algarve last month, with Jerónimo Portela taking over from Josua Moura at fly-half and Rafael Simões coming in at No 8.

Portuguese players to watch out for

Rodrigo Marta

The winger touched down twice in that recent victory over the USA and is already his country’s top try scorer at the age of 23, with 25 tries in his 29 caps, while he beat the most defenders (35) in this year’s Rugby Europe Championship. He has been playing his rugby for Dax in the French PRO D2 of late, but he will be linking up with Colomiers after the World Cup.

Nicolas Martins

The 24-year-old flanker is a physical presence in both attack and defence, with his dominant tackling and strong ball-carrying. He is a hard man to get past and a hard man to stop. Martins is another French-based player, plying his trade with Soyaux Angoulême in PRO D2.

Tomas Appleton

The captain is a solid Hadleigh Parkes style centre. Born in Lisbon, he is a dentist by profession and will be looking to extract every ounce of effort from his team-mates. He spent one season playing in the English National League One for Darlington Mowden Park. Now 30, he has won 64 caps for his country, 23 of them as skipper.

Samuel Marques

The man whose last-gasp kick against the USA last November sealed World Cup qualification. Marques, 34, is vastly experienced, having had spells at Toulouse and Brive in the French Top14. He is a calm, composed game manager, very much the petit general type No 9.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland during a press conference at the Stade de Nice, France. David Davies/PA Wire.

What have the coaches said?

Warren Gatland 

“We’ve made a few changes given the six day turnaround. It is a great opportunity for players to stake a claim. If they go out there and someone has a great performance they are definitely in contention, that’s the way I look at it. There’s a chance now for this group to go out and put down their own marker in the tournament.

“Portugal are kind of a similar version of Fiji. They play a lot of rugby, they’ve got some exciting players, they like to move the ball around, so we’re kind of prepared almost in the same way we prepared against Fiji. They are a skillful side and will be raring to go in their first match of the tournament. Hopefully, we can produce another great game of rugby.

“I stated beforehand don’t write us off and this team is capable of doing something special and I still believe that.

“If you are a hard team to beat, then things can happen for you. You get a group of players working for each other, putting that jersey on, that passion about playing for their country, for Wales, they recognise the history, what it means to the fans, the public and the family to represent your country – you get those things right, then things can happen for you.

“I can promise you they’re going to give everything to play for their country. We have done well in previous World Cups and would like to get to a final.”

Patrice Lagisquet 

“We have improved a lot over the last few years, being competitive against Italy, Georgia, an Argentina XV and Japan. During the European championship this year, we scored tries at the end of our victories against Spain and Romania which would have been considered as something impossible just three or four years ago.

“We must keep our identity, our strengths. We don’t want to lose our identity with the fast rugby, with backs going on the attack, winning turnovers.

“Our preparation for this World Cup has been really good. We had some very tough training sessions against Ireland and Samoa. The players have worked physically a lot. They have really improved in their strength, speed and physical qualities. They were really committed. They want to compete in this tournament.

“We all dream about winning a game at this World Cup, but we have a very difficult pool. We will try to exist in that pool and create some troubles.”

Broadcast details

The match will be shown live on ITV and S4C, while the BBC will be providing live radio coverage. Former Wales and Lions stars Sam Warburton, Jamie Roberts and Gareth Thomas are among ITV’s punditry team.

Bookies’ odds

Wales to win: 1/100
Draw: 50/1
Fiji to win: 16/1
Odds via Bet365

Wales’ other group matches to come in Pool C
Sunday, Sept 24: Australia (Lyon, 8pm)
Saturday, Oct 7: Georgia (Nantes, 2pm)

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