Rugby World Cup 2023: Wales fly-half Gareth Anscombe overcomes injury curse to face Portugal

Gareth Anscombe last played for Wales against Australia in November 2022
Gareth Anscombe last played for Wales against Australia in November 2022

Rugby World Cup 2023: Portugal v Wales

Venue: Stade de Nice Date: Saturday, 16 Sept Kick-off: 16:45 BST

Coverage: Live BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra, BBC Sounds, BBC Sport website & app; live text commentary on BBC Sport website & app

Wales fly-half Gareth Anscombe admits he thought his World Cup injury curse had struck again as he prepares to face Portugal in Nice on Saturday.

The 32-year-old missed the 2019 tournament after suffering a serious knee injury.

Four years on, Anscombe found himself in a Turkey hospital in July fearing the worst after breaking his thumb tackling George North in training.

"You have some dark thoughts then," said Anscombe.

"I suppose I had a night there in Turkey where I thought I was done again and that was devastating."

Anscombe described what happened in the training session at the camp in Turkey and how the worst-case scenario was avoided.

"We had a few live scenarios in training, frustratingly it was right at the end of one last scrum, I went to chop George and got his knee flush on the thumb," said Anscombe.

"It didn't look great at the start and the initial prognosis was that it was probably going to need surgery.

"Thankfully more 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."

Anscombe faced a race against time to prove his fitness, four years after being injured in a World Cup warm-up clash with England at Twickenham in 2019 which forced him to miss the global showpiece in Japan.

He spent two years on the sidelines and his recovery involved his leg being deliberately broken and then realigned with a bone graft from a deceased donor inserted.

There was nothing as damaging this time but he missed the three World Cup warm-up games in August.

Despite this he was given a vote of confidence by head coach Warren Gatland to appear in a second tournament, following his selection in 2015.

"To have the backing of the coaching staff was great," said Anscombe.

"They spoke to me and said I was still in their plans, which was nice to hear. It's been about getting myself right and ready for when an opportunity presented itself and here we are this weekend.

"I'm expecting there to be a little bit of rust but hoping it will be fairly limited and I just want to do my role for the team."

After watching Wales open the 2023 campaign with a 32-26 victory against Fiji, Anscombe is one of 13 changes to the starting side to face Portugal.

He says this Wales side are looking to continue the squad's winning ways and prove people wrong.

"It was a great start," said Anscombe.

"There's been a fair bit of media putting us down a little bit. Throughout the work we've done over the summer, it felt like there was confidence brewing.

"When you look at the side we can put out, backed up by a performance like that - which surprised a few people - we're heading in the right direction.

"We've a hell of a lot to work on, we know there's parts of our performance we need to improve if we want to progress deep into this tournament.

"You always need an element of luck in World Cups. We hope to slowly go about our work and ride the wave."

Anscombe believes Wales have benefitted from the pre-tournament preparation.

"The more time we spend together, we always improve," said Anscombe.

"You look back to the Six Nations, there was a new coaching group and a fairly volatile situation in Welsh rugby.

"We've just been able to get away from the noise, which has been important for us. Getting away for those periods in Switzerland and Turkey has been nice and hopefully shown some improvement.

"Everyone speaks about how tough these summer camps are, but whenever you go through a lot of pain together, it brings you tighter.

"The group is bouncing and there's a nice vibe about the place again, which is good to see because I've been in environments before where we haven't quite got that right.

"The group's knitting together, and performances and wins help. Hopefully we can do a job this weekend and continue that confidence."

Anscombe's reference to the "volatile situation in Welsh rugby" included controversies over player contracts which almost resulted in the Wales squad striking for the Six Nations match against England in Cardiff.

Gareth Anscombe has played 35 internationals for Wales
Gareth Anscombe has played 35 internationals for Wales

The fly-half has witnessed Cory Hill and Joe Hawkins become unavailable for the World Cup after signing for new clubs at the expense of their Wales career.

After leaving Ospreys at the end of last season, Anscombe has been able to play for Wales in France after signing for new club Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, although he will miss the 2024 Six Nations because of his Japan club commitments.

He admits he could have missed the World Cup if his situation had not been resolved.

"It almost happened to me," said Anscombe.

"Thankfully I found a way that didn't have to happen but there were many guys looking down that path and it's tough, because clearly this (the World Cup) is where you want to be.

"You've got to do what's right for your family. Thankfully, in my personal situation, that's been able to work out.

"We've moved on, it's been nice getting away from the noise and escape all that."