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Dublin: 7°C Saturday 27 February 2021

Gatland aims for World Cup glory after Wales play 'get-out-of-jail card'

This World Cup is Gatland’s final campaign before heading home to New Zealand for a new job with the Chiefs.

WARREN GATLAND STILL has plenty of begrudgers and doubters but his record speaks for itself.

Three Grand Slams since 2008, as well as a World Cup semi-final with Wales, one that they very well might have won but for Sam Warburton’s red card against France.

The 56-year-old has the Welsh back in another World Cup semi-final this weekend, although he’s honest enough to admit that Sunday’s win over France in the quarter-finals was lucky.

japan-rugby-wcup-wales-france Gatland has the Welsh back in the World Cup semi-finals. Source: Aaron Favila

The Welsh were playing poorly and trailing 19-10 to les Bleus when Sébastien Vahaamahina’s red card gave them a lifeline. It took Wales time to finally overturn the deficit but Ross Moriarty’s late try squeeze them past the French and into a semi-final against Rassie Erasmus’ Springboks this Sunday.

“We were disappointed by the performance, we didn’t play as well as we could,” said Gatland after Wales arrived in Tokyo from Oita yesterday.

“But we showed some great character out there and got the win. We’re disappointed with a few aspects but excited about being in a semi-final of a World Cup. We played our get-out-of-jail card yesterday.”

The Welsh have suffered an injury blow with news that back row Josh Navidi’s tournament is definitely over – Cardiff Blues wing Owen Lane will replace him – while there will be a logistical challenge in the early days of this week.

With Emperor Naruhito set for his enthronement ceremony in Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is staying in the same hotel as Gatland’s squad.

“We had to come in a separate entrance,” explained Gatland. “There is security with metal detectors. We don’t know how our bus is going to get in and out in the next couple of days. We’ve got a few challenges to work through on that.”

The biggest challenge this week, however, will be the Boks, who ground Japan down in their quarter-final win and who will be a major physical test for the Welsh.

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australia-v-wales-pool-d-2019-rugby-world-cup-tokyo-stadium Wales weren't at their best last weekend. Source: David Davies

“They pose different threats to some other teams. We’re pretty familiar with the way they play. There was a period a few years ago where they were trying to emulate the All Blacks or Australia, trying to be a bit too expansive in the way they played.

“They’ve gone back to their strengths and their strengths are definitely that physicality up front with driving lineouts and a strong scrum and ball-carrying and beating teams far side and a good kicking game as well.

“So you’ve got to be able to handle those threats and they’ve got a couple of pretty exciting wingers, too, who are able to cause problems.” 

This is Gatland’s final campaign with Wales before he returns home to New Zealand to take up the Chiefs job, although he will take a break from that role to do the 2021 Lions tour.

Gatland is desperate to finish out his successful time in charge of Wales with the ultimate achievement in Japan and he feels the Welsh might never have a better chance of winning a World Cup.

“It is the same for a number of players as well. I have two games left and I might never be involved in international rugby again,” said Gatland. “That’s a lot of motivation.

“For a lot of players, this will be their last World Cup – a lot in their early thirties who probably won’t be around in four years.

wales-v-france-2019-rugby-world-cup-quarter-final-oita-stadium Gatland is desperate to finish with more success. Source: David Davies

“We’ve got a pretty clean bill of health in terms of the squad and players to choose from. You get these opportunities once in a lifetime potentially and you’ve got to grab them with both hands and make the most of it. 

“It’s important that we prepare well this week and let the occasion take care of itself.

“The motivation for staff that are leaving, and the players who may have their last opportunities to leave nothing on the table and make the most of their chances.

“It’s about having no regrets and that’s the message of this week.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Tokyo

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