Wales: Contenders or pretenders?

Warren Gatland’s Wales have never been better placed to challenge for the top prize and give their coach the fairytale ending he deserves, writes MARIETTE ADAMS previewing the World Cup hopefuls in SA Rugby magazine.

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For two weeks in August, Six Nations champions Wales were officially the best team in the world according to World Rugby’s rankings, with a 13-6 win against England having them dethrone the All Blacks. But Wales now head into the World Cup in an unsettled state. A 14-game winning streak, which included overcoming favourites Ireland and England on the way to winning a third Grand Slam in 11 years, came to an end when Eddie Jones’ men claimed a narrow win in the first of two World Cup warm-up games. However, Wales did rebound a week later with the result that sent them to the top of the world rankings.

An experimental side was then given a rough time by Ireland in another warm-up at the end of August. That result also had Wales slipping to fourth on the table.

Interestingly, Wales were far from being a settled side over the past three seasons. In 2016, they suffered a 3-0 mid-year series whitewash against the All Blacks. They plummeted to new lows the following year, losing to Scotland (29-13) and France (20-18). At that stage into the four-year cycle, the idea of Wales usurping New Zealand, and emerging as one of the most cohesive squads before the 2019 World Cup would have been unthinkable.

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Their problems were compounded by losses to the Wallabies and All Blacks in Cardiff and an unflattering 13-6 win over Georgia in 2017. But coach Warren Gatland went away from those results and identified that his team’s biggest flaw had been their defence. Wales worked on those shortcomings and while they still lost to England and Ireland in the 2018 Six Nations campaign, Gatland had put structures in place that would benefit the side in the long run. They are now reaping the rewards. Wales conceded just seven tries and 65 points during their run to the 2019 Six Nations title, ousting Ireland in the process.

In Pool D with Australia, Fiji, Georgia and Uruguay, Wales should have the necessary firepower on attack and discipline on defence to overcome all their opponents and advance as pool winners. That said, the Wallabies are a bogey team for Wales and so there will be everything to play for when the two highly regarded teams meet in Tokyo on 29 September.

– This is a snippet from October issue of SA Rugby magazine that previews every team at the World Cup, now on sale!  

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