I’VE SAID for a long time that Wales are genuine contenders to win the World Cup and my opinion hasn’t changed despite three defeats in four warm-up games. Warren Gatland won’t be too bothered by that and neither will his players.
However disappointing the past two results have been for Welsh fans, rest assured Alun Wyn Jones and his men haven’t become a bad team in the space of a month.
There has been enough in periods of the past two matches against Ireland to show me that with a bit of fine tuning over the next three weeks we’ll be ready to take on Georgia and then launch into Australia in Tokyo in that vital round two game in Pool D.
Just as Warren said earlier in the year when he predicted a Grand Slam if we won in France, he knows how vital those opening two fixtures are going to be in Japan in his quest for a dream send-off as Wales head coach.
He believes Wales can go all the way, so who am I to doubt him? Much of what he has touched over the past dozen years has turned to gold, so if the boss isn’t panicking then neither am I.
There were plenty of good things to take out of the performance in Dublin, none more so than the performance of the front row. They were really under the cosh in Cardiff, but for much of the return in Dublin they were very comfortable.
There were also three line-out steals and then some superb, aggressive defence to begin with. Eventually, though, there was simply no way to hold back the tide of green jerseys as their pack got on top. You simply can’t play without the ball and it wasn’t that Wales ran out of steam, more they were starved of possession.
It is the type of forward approach that the Georgians will try to bring in that opening game, but they don’t possess as much technical prowess as the Irish and nor do they have as good a back line. Scotland dealt with the forward threat of the Georgians quite comfortably over the past week in their two matches and that might now be the perfect game for Wales to pick up the threads before meeting the Wallabies.
The Samoans gave the Wallabies a tough time for long periods at the weekend and their more open, high intensity approach will suit Wales better than having to face a more forward orientated team.
Now that the phoney-war is over we can start focussing fully on the main event. Looking around at the results from other countries it is obvious that New Zealand, South Africa and England have warmed-up well and will be huge threats in Japan, but nobody will look forward to playing against a full strength Welsh team. The talent and team work is there, there is no shortage of ability, and the desire will be provided by the captain, Shaun Edwards, and Gatland. There is everything to play for.
One man who did stand up to the Irish and impressed me was Aaron Wainwright. He’s a phenomenal prospect. You have to remember he is only 21 and he was going up against guys like CJ Stander and went toe-to-toe with them. He tackled himself stupid in defence as giants in green hurled themselves towards him.
That takes real grit and determination and he showed that in spades which is why he played the full 80 minutes. As a young player he will learn so much from that experience.
The Welsh attack is always a hot topic, but they did very little with their possession. It was frustrating to watch. George North looks like he’s on the verge of springing into life and he scored tries in both of the games against England, but Wales need to get him into the game a bit more.
I’d like to see him cutting lines against the grain through midfield where he can use his pace and power. Josh Adams is a different sort of player, but he, too, was quiet against Ireland.
I want to see more from our wingers in terms of touches.
Now it’s on to Japan and I can’t wait. Wales are genuine contenders to win and every rugby fan will be hugely excited about the tournament, but I want to end on a different note.
I’d like to throw my confidence behind Rhys Patchell. We all know he has suffered with concussion and he was forced off against Ireland after another head knock.
Wales have some of the best medics in the world so I’m sure he’ll be well looked after whatever happens at the World Cup.
Rhys deserves a change in his luck and I hope that can come in the Far East. I wish him all the best and that he looks after himself because as we all know concussion is a very serious issue and one that can’t be messed around with.
Rhys will want to do his best at the World Cup with Wales, but the most important thing is his health.
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