Wales have focused on their decision-making and finishing in the lead-up to the World Cup quarter-final against South Africa, reports JON CARDINELLI in Weybridge.
On Thursday, Warren Gatland went on a charm offensive. He spoke about the great mix of youth and experience in the current Springbok side.
The Wales coach highlighted the potential of Handré Pollard, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel as a 10-12-13 combination. He commended the Boks for going back to a ‘tried and tested’ game plan, and spoke glowingly about his opposite number, Heyneke Meyer.
Gatland later admitted that he was not in a position to make any critical comments about Wales’ next opponents.
‘I don’t want to give them anything that will galvanise them further,’ he said. ‘We’ve already seen what happened after their loss to Japan. They copped a lot of criticism. They had their backs against the wall. Then they showed their quality by bouncing back.’
Indeed, Gatland has saved the hard words and criticism for his own players this past week.
Wales are currently staying in Weybridge, a quiet suburban town south west of central London. They haven’t trained particularly hard in the wake of a brutal physical encounter against Australia. What they have done is reflect on the reasons for a 15-6 defeat, and what needs to change ahead of the quarter-final showdown against the Boks.
Wales enjoyed a two-man numerical advantage for as many as eight minutes late in the second half. They crossed the tryline three times during that period. For all of that dominance, they failed to register as much as point.
‘I’ve been very critical of the players,’ said Gatland. ‘Toby Faletau lost the ball over the tryline, but perhaps he should have looked to pass it. George North went back inside when he should have kept his width. I’ve been hard on the players for not making the right decisions under pressure.
‘The easiest decision in that situation is to tuck the ball under your arm and go forward. That decision never gets criticised [by the media or public]. But often it is the decision that involves a bit more skill and a lot more risk than makes the difference. The best players in the world are those who are willing to take more risk to get the desired reward.’
Wales captain Sam Warburton said the players have taken the message from the coaches to heart.
‘It was tough to watch the tape again, to see how we got into some great positions but just didn’t capitalise,’ Warburton said. ‘On many occasions, if we had just looked up [from the ruck] and sent it through two or three pairs of hands, we would have been in at the corner.
‘Australia deserved to win. I would back them to make the final from here. In a way, that shows where we are at the moment, as on another day we may have got the victory. We aren’t far off.’
How different the play-off picture may have looked had Wales capitalised on that numerical advantage. Wales may have won that match, topped the pool, and avoided the Boks in the quarter-finals.
As it is, they will need to pick themselves up for another brutal encounter. They will play their third tier-one opponent in as many weeks.
Gatland, however, feels Wales may have an advantage going into this game.
‘We’re certainly more battle hardened [after coming through the Pool of Death],' he said. 'Some teams will go into the next round a bit undercooked.’
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