Wales' fans attend the Rugby World Cup Pool C match...

Wales' fans attend the Rugby World Cup Pool C match between Wales and Fiji at the Stade de Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. Credit: AP/Themba Hadebe

NICE, France — Patrice Lagisquet has been trying hard to rein in his Portugal players, so eager are they to step on the Rugby World Cup stage after 16 years on Saturday against Wales in Nice.

“Players are very excited, maybe too much,” Lagisquet said on Thursday. "The session this afternoon was a bit difficult, everybody was a bit nervous on the pitch. Because we are close to the game it was a bit difficult for all of them, to keep controlling what they do in the session.

"Everybody's not expecting Portugal to qualify for the quarterfinal, but all of the players want to show they deserve to be at this World Cup and that they can play good rugby.”

There are no survivors from Portugal's only previous World Cup appearance in 2007 but 13 of the matchday 23 play for clubs in France, though only one, hooker Mike Tadjer, for a Top 14 team, Perpignan.

“The 2007 squad really inspired some of these players to play at their very best,” captain Tomas Appleton said. “We want to inspire young kids to play and grow rugby in Portugal. As players it's special to be amongst the best in the world and we want to show our qualities and our best rugby.”

Os Lobos, the Wolves, include 19 players who secured the 20th and last spot in the World Cup last November in Dubai where they drew with the United States 16-16 on a last-second Samuel Marques penalty kick. Marques is at scrumhalf.

Portugal has played only two warmup matches, the least of all 20 teams. Both were riddled with penalties. The U.S. was beaten 46-20 after a slow start, and an Australia A team with Bernard Foley and Tom Wright was lost to by 30-17 after 17-17 at the hour mark.

Many of the Portuguese were part of teams which won the European Under-20s for three years in a row and reached the final of the second-tier World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2017 and 2019.

Their aim is to win a pool game but its not likely to be against Wales.

“We know the reality,” Appleton said. “Every young kid, every young generation needs a team to look up to and a team that wins and gets results. To be present at a Rugby World Cup is the best result we could get.”

Wales made 13 changes on Wednesday, three days after beating Fiji 32-26 and retained only No. 8 Taulupe Faletau and wing Louis Rees Zammit in the starting side.

Four Welsh starters will make their World Cup debuts in captain and hooker Dewi Lake, lock Christ Tshiunza and centers Mason Grady and Johnny Williams. Taine Basham may also get a first World Cup appearance off the bench.

Tshiunza is pinching himself that he's at the World Cup playing, beside his Exeter clubmate Dafydd Jenkins in the second row.

“It is still a bit weird,” Tshiunza said. “We are roommates as well, and sometimes we just, like, lay in bed and look over at each other and say, ‘What are we doing here? To be 20 years old, what have we done to deserve this?’

“It is very surreal at the moment, but after this tournament we will look back and be glad we did it together.”

In regard to Portugal, Wales coach Warren Gatland likened Os Lobos to Fiji.

“They are kind of similar ... they play a lot of rugby, they've got some exciting players, they like to move the ball around, so we've kind of prepared almost in the same way we prepared against Fiji,” Gatland said.

Portugal's expansive approach under 1980s France great Lagisquet has seen the wings tally incredible numbers: Rodrigo Marta has 28 tries in 32 tests, and Vincent Pinto, who won the 2019 world under-20 championship with France, has 10 in 14 matches. Reserve wing Raffaele Storti has 15 in 22. All are aged 22-24.

“Against Fiji, Wales defended 253 tackles (officially 237),” Lagisquet said. “We can't repeat the strategy of Fiji, we don't have the power. We will try to play with our identity.”

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Lineups:

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Louis Rees Zammit, Mason Grady, Johnny Williams, Rio Dyer, Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Taulupe Faletau, Tommy Reffell, Dan Lydiate, Dafydd Jenkins, Christ Tshiunza, Dillon Lewis, Dewi Lake (captain), Nicky Smith. Reserves: Ryan Elias, Corey Domachowski, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Taine Basham, Gareth Davies, Sam Costelow, Josh Adams.

Portugal: Nuno Sousa Guedes, Vincent Pinto, Jose Lima, Tomas Appleton (captain), Rodrigo Marta, Jeronimo Portela, Samuel Marques; Rafael Simoes, Nicolas Martins, Joao Granate, Steevy Cerqueira, Jose Madeira, Anthony Alves, Mike Tadjer, Francisco Fernandes. Reserves: David Costa, Lionel Campergue, Diogo Hasse Ferreira, Martim Belo, David Wallis, Pedro Lucas, Joris Moura, Raffaele Storti.

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