Wales v South Africa

Paul Hay­ward: Vic­tory would be a truly fit­ting end for coach and cap­tain

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Tom Cary in Tokyo

War­ren Gat­land says he is de­lighted that Wales have been cast as un­der­dogs for their World Cup semi-fi­nal against South Africa to­mor­row, us­ing his fi­nal press con­fer­ence be­fore ar­guably the big­gest match in the coun­try’s his­tory to en­cour­age any doubters to “con­tinue to write us off ” as that will only make his side stronger.

While the build-up to the sec­ond last-four clash in Yoko­hama has lacked the py­rotech­nics of to­day’s first, with Gat­land and op­po­site num­ber Rassie Eras­mus play­ing far nicer than Eng­land’s Ed­die Jones and New Zealand’s Steve Hansen, the ten­sion has be­lat­edly started to ratchet up.

Gat­land threw a mis­chievous curve­ball into pro­ceed­ings yes­ter­day when he brought up a hith­erto un­no­ticed, off-the-ball in­ci­dent in­volv­ing Spring­boks No 8 Duane Ver­meulen.

There is lit­tle that can be done about it now, with the win­dow for cit­ings hav­ing passed, but by bring­ing it up, Gat­land drew at­ten­tion to some­thing South Africa would doubt­less have pre­ferred to keep out of the public do­main.

It has been a tense 48 hours. In­juries to key play­ers Ch­es­lin Kolbe (South Africa) and Liam Wil­liams (Wales) have been late dra­mas for both camps, al­though the fact that Gat­land was able to name out­side cen­tre Jonathan Davies in his team yes­ter­day gave Wales mo­men­tum head­ing into the game.

The British and Irish Lion has been suf­fer­ing with a knee in­jury sus­tained in the pool stages. His in­clu­sion means Wales have their de­fen­sive tal­is­man back ahead of what prom­ises to be a hugely phys­i­cal en­counter against the Boks.

Aside from Davies com­ing in for Owen Watkin, there were only two other changes to the Wales team that faced France last Sun­day.

Leigh Half­penny re­places Wil­liams, who has been ruled out of next week­end’s fi­nal should Wales progress – no re­place­ment has yet been called up – and No 8 Ross Mo­ri­arty comes in for Josh Na­vidi, who like­wise has been ruled out of the rest of the tour­na­ment.

Gat­land was phleg­matic about the in­juries, say­ing Wales were con­sid­er­ing start­ing with Half­penny at full-back any­way. “At this stage, you are al­ways go­ing to lose a cou­ple of qual­ity play­ers,” he said. “And in them los­ing Kolbe and us los­ing Liam Wil­liams, it’s prob­a­bly one each in terms of that.

“[Wil­liams] is un­doubt­edly a big loss from an at­tack­ing per­spec­tive and what he has achieved in the game in the last year or so.

“But bring­ing in the ex­pe­ri­ence of some­one like Leigh Half­penny gives us a dif­fer­ent ele­ment. He is prob­a­bly the best full-back in the

‘I have got two games to go as the Wales coach and I want to en­joy them’

world in terms of his ae­rial game and cov­er­age de­fen­sively. We had a long de­bate about whether we started Leigh in the first place and po­ten­tially move Liam to the wing.”

Speak­ing at the team’s ho­tel in down­town Tokyo, with vet­eran cap­tain Alun Wyn Jones sit­ting along­side him, Gat­land’s fi­nal words were part ral­ly­ing cry, part nostal­gia-fest as he looked ahead to to­mor­row’s game, and back at an in­cred­i­ble 12-year stretch which has yielded Six Na­tions grand slams and wins over ev­ery coun­try bar New Zealand, a record he ad­mit­ted he would “love” to cor­rect.

Gat­land, who de­parts his post at the con­clu­sion of the World Cup, said he did not at all mind be­ing cast as un­der­dogs against a huge South Africa team, who have en­joyed a smoother path to this point.

“I am ex­cited about [the match],” he in­sisted. “I’m more look­ing for­ward to this game than I was last week, and more con­fi­dent about this game than we prob­a­bly were against France.”

The book­mak­ers disagree. Wales are fourth-favourites to win the tour­na­ment, their odds as long as 12-1 with some book­mak­ers. South Africa, mean­while, are sec­ond-favourites, be­hind New Zealand.

Gat­land ques­tioned those odds, not­ing Wales’s re­cent record against the Boks which reads four games, four wins. Wales also have an un­canny abil­ity to win tight games, hav­ing won a record five World Cup matches by a sin­gle point.

“The nice thing about be­ing out here is that you are kind of in a bub­ble,” he said. “But if they con­tinue to do that [de­scribe Wales as un­der­dogs] over the next cou­ple of days that would be bril­liant. Please con­tinue to do that as it does get us up when peo­ple write us off. I can’t un­der­stand why peo­ple write us off when our record against South Africa has been pretty good in the last four or five years.

“It is go­ing to be a tight game. It will prob­a­bly be a kick­ing-fest. They kicked 30 times against Ja­pan, so we have got to be ready to han­dle that. It won’t be the pret­ti­est game in the world. It will be a tight Test match with prob­a­bly teams play­ing for ter­ri­tory, de­pend­ing on what the weather is like.

“I have got two games to go as the Wales coach and I want to en­joy these last two games. And there are prob­a­bly nine or 10 play­ers who won’t be in­volved in an­other World Cup as well, so they have got to rel­ish that op­por­tu­nity and be ex­cited about this.”

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