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Williams column: Hope has turned into belief after win over Aussies

Wales

THERE will be no sense of complacency from Wales when they face Fiji. None at all.

That was the mistake we made at the 2007 World Cup. It was a horror result for us as a team and the loss was one of the lowest moments of my career. It was brutally tough to take.

Gareth Jenkins lost his job as a result and as players at the time we have to acknowledge we were partly at fault for that. Against Fiji in 2007 we thought we had the game won, we were too open, and got ourselves involved in a game of running rugby against a side ideally suited to that sort of game. 

Warren Gatland’s class of 2019 won’t make the same mistake. I’m absolutely sure of that. They are too smart, too savvy, and more importantly have too much class to go down the path we did.

After back-to-back wins over Georgia and Australia Wales will be buzzing with confidence. When a side has a big victory like the one against the Wallabies it is just such a joy to be in a team environment. You can’t shut anyone up and the banter is flying everywhere!

Speaking to a few of the players I know that’s been the case in the last week where they have been enjoying a bit of time off down in Otsu which is one of the quieter parts of Japan.

Rest and relaxation is a vital part of any World Cup. You can’t be at 100 per cent the whole time. You have to switch off and let the batteries recharge.

It was an absolutely manic start to the tournament for Wales. First there was Rob Howley returning home before the team had barely got started. There was obviously a lot of Press and talk around that and then came the Georgia game and a quick turnaround before Australia.

It has been frantic which is why it was canny management from Warren to give the players four days off after the win over the Wallabies.

Warren is a master at getting teams ready for tournament rugby and is supported in that by his coaching and back-room staff who are the best in the business.

There is a reason Wales do so well in the Six Nations and at World Cups because competition is what really gets Warren’s juices flowing. He’ll be determined to capitalise on what has been a great start, Wales have been superb so far. They cut Georgia to ribbons in the first game and the Australia performance was superb. The best I’ve seen for a long time.

In the first half especially I must admit I couldn’t really believe what I was watching it was that good. Wales totally controlled the game playing disciplined, effective, world class rugby. The team must take a great deal of credit for that.

Dan Biggar’s drop-goal after just 36 seconds set the tone and Wales scored excellent tries through Hadleigh Parkes and Gareth Davies who was just outstanding. What I admired most about Wales was their refusal to be bowed by the big stage. We had been talking about the Australia game for nigh on two years.

The team delivered under pressure when it mattered most and it has put them in a fine position to top Pool D and seal what would be on paper an easier quarter-final. Let’s hope that’s the case.

What is exciting too is that Wales will know they can get better. In the second half of both games they have dropped off. Against Georgia that was disappointing, but I’m not too concerned at the way Australia fought back in Tokyo. In Test rugby today – particularly against the big teams – you are never going to have it all your own way for 80 minutes. To wish for that is a tad unrealistic.

Let’s not forget Australia are a very good team. Wales fans know all about that!

When Australia closed the gap to one point I’m sure I wasn’t the only Wales fan who thought they were going to nick a narrow victory yet again. The resilience Wales showed to weather the storm has displayed to me that this team has the ability to go all the way in Japan. We all hoped that would be the case before the tournament, but now Wales fans can have that belief. The team looked out on their feet at one stage in the second half, but their fitness and resilience came through in the final quarter. That takes real character.

Rhys Patchell - Wales
Coming good: Rhys Patchell oozed calmness when it mattered most as Wales staved off an Australia comeback. David Rogers/Getty Images

We already knew guys like Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Dan Biggar and Jonathan Davies have that character in abundance. What we weren’t totally sure about was how the younger players would cope under the highest scrutiny of the biggest stage. Step forward Rhys Patchell with a clinical, 14-point haul and a calm and composed display. Step forward Tomos Williams with a superb late cameo. If he hadn’t saved that Australian kick from finding touch late on, the result may well have been different with a Wallaby line-out close to the Welsh line.

There were also big, big moments late on from Justin Tipuric with a set-piece steal and Liam Williams with a remarkable turnover achieved on one leg! It is this combination of world class ability and sheer bottle that has me excited about this team. Wales, rightly, will be wary of Fiji – they are a dangerous team – but I can’t see them causing an upset this time around. You have to remember that at the last two World Cups Wales have beaten Fiji twice. It was 23-13 four years ago and in 2011 in New Zealand we hammered them 66-0. I’d expect a scoreline somewhere between the two this time around.

Wales have had a long break to prepare for this game. The players are focused and ready to go and given the rest they’ve had I’d expect  Warren to pick the same team again for Fiji. One change he could consider is Owen Watkin for Parkes at inside centre.

Parkes is such a key man for Wales, but if his hand injury is causing him any trouble at all it wouldn’t weaken the side too much if he sat out the Fiji game. He did play with the problem and scored against Australia, but a decent rest would give him the best chance of being at 100 per cent for the quarter-finals. After Fiji, Wales face a very short turnaround to play Uruguay and that is when I’d expect to see wholesale changes. If Wales beat Fiji they will have virtually guaranteed top spot.

Uruguay did brilliantly to beat Fiji, but I’d expect them to have run out of puff by the last game of the Pool. Sadly, that’s the case for most of the Tier 2 nations when it comes to World Cup rugby.

Warren could make up to 15 changes for the Uruguay game and I can’t see that being a problem. Hallam Amos, Aled Davies, James Davies, Ryan Elias and Bradley Davies could all come in to allow the first-choice starters to rest.

I expect Wales to win their next two games and from there anything can happen. It will then be knock-out rugby and Wales showed against Australia they can produce in big games.

SHANE WILLIAMS

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