Gareth Anscombe's start vs Portugal is the end of a two-year battle

Gareth Anscombe’s horror injury kept him out of Wales’ 2019 World Cup side but Warren Gatland has handed the fly-half a start against Portugal to complete his miracle recovery

  • It took the player two years to recover after rupturing his knee ligaments in 2019 
  • Due to playing for Japan’s side Suntory, Anscombe won’t take part in Six Nations
  • The fly-half will provide necessary experience in a comparatively youthful side 
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results

The long scar on Gareth Anscombe’s right knee remains visible. It is a reminder of the Wales’ fly-half’s tortuous journey to Saturday’s World Cup clash with Portugal on the Cote d’Azur.

Anscombe has had some rotten luck. When he ruptured his knee ligaments in August 2019 and missed that year’s global showpiece, it took the No 10 two years to recover.

His recuperation involved three operations, the last of which saw surgeons deliberately break his tibia, totally realign his leg, and insert a bone graft from a deceased donor into his knee. Frankly, it is a miracle Anscombe is back playing rugby at all let alone competing at the sport’s highest level.

‘You’d like to think so,’ Anscombe said with a smile, when asked if he was due a change in fortune.

He most certainly is. Featuring at his second World Cup is a just reward for Anscombe’s impressive perseverance. It would have been easy for him to throw in the towel when at the height of his recovery misery, Anscombe’s wife Milica converted one of the family’s downstairs rooms into an emergency bedroom as he could not make it upstairs.

Gareth Anscombe has had a torturous journey back to playing rugby at the highest level

The fly-half suffered a horrific injury during an international tie against England in August 2019

There have been many, many lows.

They included another injury scare this summer when Anscombe hurt his thumb tackling George North in Wales’ training camp in Turkey.

It threw the No 10’s participation in France into doubt.

‘I had a night in Turkey where I thought I was done again and that was devastating,’ said Anscombe. ‘You have some dark thoughts then. But thankfully I had some luck on my side for once.

‘To be backed by the medical and coaching staff to be picked having not played in the warm-up games was great.

‘I’m thankful for that. I just want to make the most of this opportunity now.’ Anscombe is used to time on the sidelines.

‘To even be back playing now is a success really because there were a lot of people who questioned whether I could do that,’ he told MailSport in 2021.

Anscombe has had his highs since then. There was a match-winning kick in Wales’ first victory on South African soil last summer.

Now, having earned the backing of Warren Gatland despite missing Wales’ World Cup preparation, he starts for Wales again on the biggest stage.

Anscombe looked to be touch and go before the start of the tournament this year after injuring himself during Wales’ training camp

The 32-year-old is keen to emulate the strong and speedy recovery of South Africa captain Siya Kolisi

Anscombe is taking inspiration from South Africa captain Siya Kolisi, who has made a quicker-than-expected recovery from knee surgery to be fit for France.

‘It didn’t look great at the start and the initial prognosis was it was probably going to need surgery,’ said Anscombe of his thumb injury.

‘Thankfully the scans came back better than first thought and it looked like there would be a chance of getting back right.

‘I had to be in a cast for a month which was difficult but at least I could still run.

‘You look at the likes of Kolisi who was out for a long time and he was superb in his first game back. It can be done. I know there is always a going to be a bit of rust.

‘If you look at Johnny (Sexton) he was out for a couple of months with his injury and his ban. It’s about making sure you train smart and make the most of every opportunity.

‘I’m trying to do that. I’m expecting there to be a little bit of rust but I’m hoping it will be fairly limited. I just want to do my role for the team.’ Anscombe is one of 13 changes made by Wales head coach Gatland for Portugal from the team which claimed a thrilling yet controversial win over Fiji in round one.

Warren Gatland has rolled the dice with a vastly changed side from the team that faced Fiji

Louis Rees-Zammit is one of only two players that keep their places in Wales’ starting XV

Only Taulupe Faletau and Louis Rees-Zammit retain their places. Anscombe’s attacking threat and ability to play flat to the gainline saw him preferred to Dan Biggar as Wales No 10 by Gatland as his team won a Six Nations grand slam in 2019. Since then, Anscombe has been largely injured.

The 32-year-old was nearly a victim of Welsh rugby’s financial crisis last season too. With money tight and underwhelming contract offers on the table, Anscombe’s former team-mates Cory Hill and Rhys Webb decided to turn their back on the World Cup to take club deals abroad.

Anscombe has been able to play in France. He will join Japanese side Suntory after the tournament in a move which will mean he’ll definitely miss the 2024 Six Nations.

‘It almost happened to me,’ Anscombe said, when asked if he was nearly forced to quit Wales duty.

‘Thankfully, I found a way that didn’t have to happen but there were many guys looking down that path. It’s tough because clearly this is where you want to be. But you’ve got to do what’s right for your family. We’ve moved on.. Whenever you go through a lot of pain together as a group, it does bring you tighter.

‘Sometimes the only way to do that is to experience some hardship.’ Gatland will want his fringe players to impress against Pool C minnows Portugal who are ranked 16th in the world. The two sides have only ever met once before, in 1994.

Wales were 102-11 victors then. Gatland’s side should win well and with a bonus point, but they will do well to emulate the class of 29 years ago.

Five more points would main a perfect start to Wales’ World Cup, one they entered with little expected of them. Gatland has maintained Wales can do ‘something special’ in France.

Anscombe has already done that by returning to the field. Now, he wants more.

‘I think we’re heading in the right direction,’ Anscombe said.

‘We’ve a hell of a lot to work on. We know there are parts of our performance we need to improve if we want to progress deep into this tournament.

‘But it (Fiji) was a great start. When you look at some of the youngsters we’ve got ready to go this weekend, it’s really exciting. We’ve just spoken as a team about improving our performance.

‘I know everyone is excited to put their hand up and get a starting jersey, but we’ve got to be pretty disciplined in our approach.’ The experience of Anscombe, Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Lydiate and Faletau complements what is on the whole a youthful Wales side for Portugal. Hooker Dewi Lake is captain.

Second rows and Exeter team-mates Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza have just 41 years between them and are the youngest lock pairing in Welsh rugby history.

Wales’ victory against Fiji was not without controversy but has put a spring in the players’ step

Wales’ youthfulness is exemplified by Dafydd Jenkins, who with Christ Tshiunza will form the youngest lock partnership in Welsh history on Saturday

‘There has been an element of confidence brewing,’ Anscombe said. ‘The more time we spend together, we always improve.

‘If you look back to the Six Nations, it was a new coaching group and a fairly volatile situation in Welsh rugby. We’ve just been able to get away from that.

‘That has been really nice and hopefully it’s shown some improvement. You always need an element of luck in World Cups with injuries and decisions.

‘We just hope to slowly go about our work and ride the wave. When Welsh fans get behind us, who knows what can happen.’


Wales: Halfpenny; Rees-Zammit, Grady, J Williams, Dyer; Anscombe, T Williams; Smith, Lake (captain), Lewis, Tshiunza, Jenkins, Lydiate, Reffell, Faletau 

Replacements: Elias, Domachowski, Francis, Beard, Basham, Davies, Costelow, Adams

Portugal: Guedes; Pinto, Lima, Appleton (capt), Marta; Portela, Marques; Fernandes, Tadjer, Alves, Bello, Cerqueira, Granate, Martins, Simoes.

Replacements: Costa, Campergue, Ferreira, Freitas, Wallis, Lucas, Moura, Storti.

Kick-off: 4.45pm, Saturday September 16 

Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU) 

Venue: Stade de Nice

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