Pool C at the Rugby World Cup looks wide open. There is uncertainty over Wales and Australia’s form following fractured build-ups and Fiji and Georgia are aiming to take advantage.
Fiji won this summer’s Pacific Nations Cup and backed it up with a strong showing in defeat to France before beating England for the first time.
They have received a huge blow in the build-up to the tournament with the injury to fly-half Caleb Muntz but the new-found structure built into their gameplan hints that they can work around that setback.
They open their campaign against the Welsh on Sunday evening and with the temperature in Bordeaux forecast to be touching 30C, they could make a real statement.
Wales have been boosted by the return of Taulupe Faletau, who comes back into the side after a calf injury to win his 101st cap.
Fellow back-rower Jac Morgan will captain the team and is one of five players due to make their World Cup debuts. However, co-captain Dewi Lake misses out due to a lack of match fitness.
Muntz’s place in the Fijian number 10 shirt has been taken by Teti Tela and he will partner Frank Lomani in the halves, in an otherwise unchanged XV from the team that won at Twickenham.
Lomani and Tela will be responsible for putting the likes of Semi Radradra and captain Waisea Nayacalevu into space.
Fiji’s depth is such that they can afford to keep Josua Tuisova in reserve, while magnificent back-rower-cum-centre Levani Botia is also among the replacements.
Fiji to win @ 17/10
Gatland’s return has sparked plenty of debate, as he has jettisoned a host of senior names and placed his faith in youth for the tournament in France.
The Kiwi’s World Cup record is exemplary, reading semi-final (2011), quarter-final (2015) and semi-final (2019) and he will have used the intervening period since their record 52-16 defeat in their final warm-up against South Africa to drill his side.
Wales’ set-piece was poor that day but they will still hope to get the best of the Fijians in that area.
However, their lack of mobility means they could otherwise struggle against a team that now picks and chooses its moments to throw the ball about and are happy to go through the phases if necessary.
Muntz’s injury is a blow but there is enough in this Fijian team to get an opening win, especially in such balmy conditions.
Waisea Nayacalevu Anytime Tryscorer @ 3/1
There could be value in looking at Nayacalevu as an anytime tryscorer.
The Fijian skipper looks at home in the centre and forms a fabulous midfield partnership with Radradra.
Nayacalevu is fresh from scoring two tries in the Pacific Nations Cup.
The 33-year-old also got over the line at Twickenham and looks a fabulous price to add to his tally.