A much-changed Wales struggle to a bonus-point World Cup victory over impressive Portugal in Nice.
|Wales (14) 28|
|Tries: Rees-Zammit, Lake, Morgan, Faletau Cons: Halfpenny 3, Costelow|
|Portugal (3) 8|
|Tries: Martins Pens: Marques|
Portugal excelled in the first half, but were trailing 14-3 at the break after Wales tries by Louis Rees-Zammit and captain Dewi Lake.
Flanker Jac Morgan, a late inclusion for the injured Tommy Reffell, scored before Portugal flanker Nicolas Martins crashed over.
Taulupe Faletau secured the bonus point with a late fourth try.
Portugal finished with 14 men after wing Vincent Pinto was shown a late red card for a reckless high boot on Josh Adams.
While Wales were incredibly underwhelming, Portugal deserve the plaudits for their adventurous attacking approach.
Wales had defeated Portugal 102-11 on the only other occasion they faced each other in 1994. There was never going to be a repeat of that.
There were eight places between the two sides in World Rugby’s rankings going into the game, but you would not have thought that after witnessing the contest on the French Riviera.
Portuguese semi-professionals make Wales labour
Portugal, who had semi-professional players in their ranks and are coached by former France wing Patrice Lagisquet, had come through qualification to start only a second World Cup campaign after appearing in the 2007 tournament.
Wales had started their 2023 adventure with a thrilling victory over Fiji in Bordeaux, Warren Gatland initially made 13 changes to the starting side with only number eight Faletau and wing Rees-Zammit starting.
That became 12 alterations when Wales had to cope with disruption after flanker Reffell pulled out late in the warm-up with squad co-captain Morgan replacing him in the starting side.
Wales defence coach Mike Forshaw had warned his side about what had happened to a much-changed France side who struggled against Uruguay on Thursday evening before winning 27-12 and similar events transpired.
It was a chance for Wales players to push their case for selection against Australia in Lyon on 24 September.
Not many would have improved their cases based on this performance, which was littered with mistakes and plagued by a malfunctioning line-out. Late inclusion Morgan managed to impress with a man-of-the-match display.
With Pool C still possibly being decided on points difference, Wales will be interested spectators when Fiji face Australia in Saint-Etienne on Sunday.
New-look Wales fail to connect
There was experience and youth in Wales’ new-look side, but not much evidence of any familiarity on show.
Fly-half Gareth Anscombe, 32, was playing his first World Cup game for eight years after missing the 2019 competition because of a serious knee injury.
Full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who became the oldest Wales back to start a World Cup game, and flanker Dan Lydiate were playing in a third global tournament.
In contrast, Exeter locks Christ Tshiunza, 21 and Dafydd Jenkins, 20, formed Wales’ youngest starting second-row partnership, while Lake, 24, led the side on his World Cup debut.
Scrum-half Tomos Williams led his side out because he was winning his 50th cap, against opponents keen to make their mark, but opposite number Samuel Marques missed with his opening attempt.
Despite an encouraging Portugal start, it Wales scored first with an impressive finish from Rees-Zammit, who collected his own delicate grubber to collect his second World Cup try.
The wing cheekily marked the try by emulating the celebration of Portugal football legend Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugal continued to entertain with their expansive approach as fleet-footed full-back Nuno Sousa Gedes almost set up a try for flanker Martins who was only denied by a brilliant Faletau covering tackle.
Wales were reduced to 14 men after centre Johnny Williams was shown a yellow card for the professional foul of playing the ball on the floor.
Portugal were troubling Wales with their attack-at-all-costs attitude and a brilliant Marques kick set up an attacking opportunity that was repelled by brilliant Halfpenny defence.
Gatland has often called Halfpenny the best defensive full-back in the world and that moment backed up this claim.
Portugal’s dominant kicking continued to pay dividends and Marques deservedly scored his side’s first points with a penalty.
Williams returned to the field and almost scored before losing possession just short of the Portugal line. Lake ensured Wales scored just before-half time as he powered over for a try that gave them a 14-3 half-time lead that flattered his side.
Wales find a way to bonus point
Wales’ scrummaging superiority was evident both sides of half-time, but they lost three consecutive line-outs in the Portugal 22 early in the second half.
Marques missed a penalty attempt before Gatland changed more than half his forwards as he looked for inspiration.
Wales started playing a more structured game and it paid dividends when Morgan burrowed over from close range.
Portugal regrouped and rewarded their passionate vocal supporters when Martin crashed over from a well-worked line-out move.
Replacement scrum-half Gareth Davies thought he had scored the bonus-point try after impressive build-up work from Rees-Zammit, but the score was disallowed for obstruction.
Portugal wing Vincent Pinto was shown a late yellow card for a high foot that connected with the face of Wales replacement wing Adams.
That decision was referred to the bunker system and determined to be a red card.
Faletau took advantage by powering over with the final play of the game to ensure Wales took maximum points.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland: “It wasn’t pretty but we got the job done.
“A few of the boys looked a bit rusty having not played together, but we’ll take the win and move on.
“People had an opportunity today and we’ll review that to see who performed well.
“Our line-out didn’t function as well as we would have liked and we were a bit lateral at times. When we were direct and won the contact we looked comfortable.
“In fairness to Portugal, they put us under pressure they moved the ball well and I was impressed with them.”
Portugal head coach Patrice Lagisquet: “There has been two mistakes and then they can score two tries. We were too shy in the first half, we were not playing enough collectively.
“We’ve shown in the second half we can play better rugby but I’m a bit disappointed with the red card because for me it was totally accidental.
“I’m a bit disappointed about these few things but what I appreciate is the behaviour of the players, they were really committed, fighting a lot, I’m proud of their attitude.
“We take experience from game. For this young team, these young players, we have to be more confident in the way we can play.”
Wales: L Halfpenny; Rees-Zammit, Grady, J Williams, Dyer; Anscombe, T Williams; Smith, Lake (capt), D Lewis, Tshiunza, Jenkins, Lydiate, Reffell, Faletau.
Replacements: Elias, Domachowski, Francis, Beard, Basham, G Davies, Costelow, Adams.
Sin-bin: J Williams 25
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.
Red card: Pinto 77
Referee: Karl Dickson