Gareth Anscombe wins World Cup start four years after horror injury

Warren Gatland hands Gareth Anscombe a World Cup start four years after horror injury snuffed out his hopes for 2019… as the Wales head coach rolls the dice with 13 changes ahead of their Riviera clash with Portugal

  • Wales will look to brush Portugal aside before focusing on Wallabies’ showdown 
  • Gatland’s side downed Fiji in their tournament opener in Bordeaux on Sunday 
  • CHRIS FOY picks out 10 major talking points from the World Cup’s opening ties
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results

Gareth Anscombe will get the chance to put the pain of missing the 2019 World Cup due to a horror knee injury behind him when he starts for Wales against Portugal in Nice on Sunday.

The fly-half is one of 13 changes made by head coach Warren Gatland for his team’s second game of the pool stages. It will complete a remarkable turnaround for the Japan-bound player.

Four years ago, Anscombe was injured in a World Cup warm-up clash with England at Twickenham and missed the global showpiece in Japan.

He spent two years on the sidelines and his recovery involved his leg being deliberately broken and then realigned with a bone graft from a deceased donor inserted.

Anscombe’s recovery has been remarkable and the dedication he has shown will be rewarded when he returns to rugby’s biggest stage this weekend.

Gareth Anscombe will start for Wales when the side face Portugal in their second World Cup tie on Saturday

Head coach Warren Gatland (right) has shaken up his starting XV after victory against Fiji

The fly-half was kept out of Wales’ 2019 World Cup side after picking up an injury in a warm-up match against England

Anscombe’s first World Cup was in 2015. He didn’t play in last month’s warm-up games due to a thumb injury but has now recovered.

‘We’ve made a few changes this week given the six-day turnaround,’ said Gatland, after ripping up his team from the one which edged a thriller with Fiji 32-26 in round one.

‘This is an opportunity now for this matchday 23. I’ve said it before, but there’s some great competition within the squad which is what we want to see. There’s a chance now for this group to go out on Saturday and to put down their own marker in the tournament.’ Only No 8 Taulupe Faletau and wing Louis Rees-Zammit keep their starting places from the Fiji game against Portugal. Hooker Dewi Lake takes over the captaincy from Jac Morgan.

Gatland’s close to total change of his squad for Portugal means only prop Henry Thomas won’t have featured in Wales’ first two Pool C matchday squads.

Age is just a number! 

At 34 years, eight months and 26 days, Lee Halfpenny becomes the oldest backline player to play a Rugby World Cup game for Wales, surpassing Shane Williams who was 34 years, seven months and 26 days when he faced Australia in 2011. 

Scrum-half Tomos Williams will win his 50th cap alongside Anscombe. Veterans Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Lydiate start at full-back and flanker to provide a young side with some experience.

‘We got the win which was the main thing but there’s a lot to improve,’ said wing Rees-Zammit, who scored a crucial try against Fiji.

‘We’ve got Portugal next and we know they’ve got great backs so it’s going to be a tough game.

‘We’ve got a game-by-game mentality and that’s our focus. You can’t slip up.. We respect Portugal. We’re going to have to train hard this week and get the job done.’ After claiming a bonus-point success over Fiji, only one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history will stop Wales moving to a perfect 10 points from two games this weekend.

Portugal are ranked 16th in the world and Wales should have no trouble dispatching them even with a much-changed side. The two teams have only ever met once before.

In 1994, Wales hammered the Wolves 102-11, scoring 16 tries in a qualifying match for the following year’s World Cup in South Africa. After downing Fiji in Bordeaux, Wales arrived in Nice on Monday where they have utilised their stunning Cote d’Azur location for cold water sea recovery.

Gatland has left out first-choice stars Dan Biggar, Liam Williams, Will Rowlands, George North and Morgan – among others – for Portugal with the crunch third-round meeting with Australia in mind. That game with Eddie Jones’ Wallabies will define whether or not Wales top their pool.

Louis Rees-Zammit is one of only two players who keep their places after victory in Bordeaux

Dan Biggar will watch the clash from the sidelines as Wales prepare to take on the Wallabies 

Dafydd Jenkins – who has the honour of carrying Wales’ lovespoon in France – will start at lock

Lake is joined in the front row this weekend by props Nicky Smith and Dillon Lewis with Exter pair Christ Tshiunza and Dafydd Jenkins at lock. At 20, Jenkins is the youngest member of Wales’ World Cup party and is carrying the squad’s traditional lovespoon around France.

‘I haven’t lost it yet which is good. A few boys are definitely eyeing it up so I have to keep it away from them,’ Jenkins said. ‘It is a privilege to be with the group. I just want to try and leave the 20-year-old younger version of myself behind and be a more experienced player at this level.’ Gatland was unhappy with how Wales nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Fiji and has demanded a response from his entire squad.

‘We’ve done a thorough debrief of last week’s game and know the areas we need to improve. We have a clear plan of how we want to play on Saturday,’ Gatland said.

‘It’s about going out there and executing that as we have prepared. Portugal are a skilful side and will be raring to go this weekend in their first match of the tournament. We’re excited to get back out there and are looking forward to seeing more great support from the travelling fans out in Nice.’

Wales team to face Portugal

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, Tommy Reffell, Taulupe Faletau

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

Kick-off: 4.45pm, Saturday, Nice

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