With his main backs banged up after barely getting past Fiji on Wednesday in Oita, coach Warren Gatland was limited to changing 13 of the starting 15 for their Pool D closer in Kumamoto. Having already qualified for the quarterfinals, Gatland admitted he didn't want to play center Hadleigh Parkes, who is carrying a fractured right hand, and wing Josh Adams. Both are starting their fourth straight pool games, and he wants to rest them as soon as possible.
It all depends on a XV in which 11 players are making their first starts in this tournament. Five of them are even making their first appearance. All that depth-building for the last four years will be tested by Uruguay, and Gatland has urged his players to make his life and theirs easier by winning comfortably to complete a sweep of the pool.
"We've got to make sure we do a job early on against Uruguay," he said. "It's challenging with such a short turnaround but that's what World Cups are all about. "We've spoken about creating as much strength in depth in the squad as we could over the last three or four years. The squad is in a good place mentally. There are a group of players that are excited about the chance to go out and, for a lot of them, get their first game at a World Cup."
He's given them the carrot of a shot at the quarterfinals, too, though it's hard to see the players who tore apart Georgia 43-14 , held off Australia 29-25 , and overcame Fiji 29-17 pushed out of a quarterfinal squad.
"The door is not shut," Gatland promised. "There are opportunities for players to go out there and impress and stake a claim for a quarterfinal spot. It's not just an idle comment. If someone does go out and performs outstandingly we will look at them for the following week."
There might be openings in the backline. Flyhalf Dan Biggar, who took a head knock in a mid-air collision then slammed his head on the ground against Fiji, was "symptom free" Gatland said, and still undergoing the head injury assessment. Center Jonathan Davies had an injured knee, and wing George North a damaged ankle.
The only backs in the reserves were scrumhalves Tomos Williams and Gareth Davies, who finished against Fiji on the wing. Gatland wouldn't say who was the flyhalf backup. "You can play 10 as well can't you, Justin?" Gatland asked flanker and first-time captain Justin Tipuric half-seriously.
The coach said he's prepared to play guys out of position, noting reserve flanker James Davies can play on the wing, and so can Tipuric. But they need first to have Uruguay, which also beat Fiji , far in their rearview mirror.
Naturally, the Uruguayans won't cooperate. They were proud to trail Australia only 19-3 last Saturday, and the end result was a 20-point better loss than at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. "We are going to play Wales like our first half against Australia," reserve back Rodrigo Silva said. "We will try to play 80 minutes at that pace."
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Adams, Owen Watkin, Hadleigh Parkes, Hallam Amos, Rhys Patchell, Aled Davies; Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric (captain), Aaron Shingler, Adam Beard, Bradley Davies, Dillon Lewis, Ryan Elias, Nicky Smith. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Rhys Carre, Wyn Jones, Jake Ball, Ross Moriarty, James Davies, Tomos Williams, Gareth Davies.
Uruguay: Gaston Mieresm, Leandro Leivas, Juan Manuel Cat, Andres Vilaseca, Nicolas Freitas, Felipe Berchesi, Santiago Arata; Alejandro Nieto, Santiago Civetta, Juan Manuel Gaminara (captain), Manuel Leindekar, Ignacio Dotti, Diego Arbelo, German Kessler, Mateo Sanguinetti. Reserves: Guillermo Pujadas, Juan Echeverria, Juan Pedro Rombys, Diego Magno, Manuel Diana, Agustin Ormaechea, Tomas Inciarte, Rodrigo Silva.
More AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports