Praise for Wales punching above their weight at World Cup
Warren Gatland has hailed Wales’ ability to keep “punching above our weight” after clinching a place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals against Australia on Sunday evening.
It maintains Gatland’s 100 per record of reaching the last-eight in four World Cup campaigns as Wales head coach.
And the achievement is further underlined by where Wales were just six months ago on and off the pitch.
They finished fifth in the Six Nations, with a solitary win being against Italy, while Welsh professional rugby was engulfed by financial issues and contractual uncertainty for many players.
That scenario almost led to Gatland’s squad going on strike in protest over the situation just days before Wales faced England in Cardiff.
Now, though, they find themselves at the business end of a World Cup, having progressed from Pool C with one game to spare and seemingly on course for a quarter-final clash against Argentina in Marseille on October 14.
“There were a lot of things going on before the Six Nations,” Gatland said, following a record 40-6 victory over Australia that confirmed Wales’ progression to the knockout phase.
“Contract issues and the players getting offered them, and then just understanding the frustrations from them in terms of security, future, families and stuff.
“I probably didn’t realise at the time the impact that had on the coaching staff and probably even myself.
“I had to sit back and let things unfold until after the Six Nations, when you can get a squad together.
“We have been together for four months now. You know you can put the detail, preparation and hard work in that we always pride ourselves on.
“We are such a small nation as a tier one nation in terms of playing numbers, and we are proud that our success has been based on hard work and punching above our weight.
“Everyone has made a lot of sacrifices in the last four months, and the message from me beforehand was ‘you get what you deserve in life’ from putting that hard work and effort in.
“We have been through some pain and tough times. We have pushed some players right to the edge, and they have fronted up.
“We have got a brilliant balance in this group in terms of taking the mickey out of each other and some real banter, which is brilliant.
“But when they are asked to front up and perform at training, they get their heads on and they knuckle down.”
Wales were World Cup semi-finalists in 2011 – the first time for 24 years – and 2019, with that achievement now having an outstanding chance of being repeated.
Among Wales’ many successes in the tournament so far has been co-captain Jac Morgan’s form and leadership, which he highlighted through an immense display against Australia.
It evokes memories of New Zealand in 2011 when a 22-year-old Sam Warburton was handed the captaincy reins and delivered magnificently. At 23, flanker Morgan is so far ticking every box.
Gatland added: “He is still a young man, and I threw him in at the deep end. He has been absolutely outstanding.
“I have a huge amount of admiration for him. He is definitely a player who leads from the front, and he did exactly that (against Australia). It was a brilliant performance from him.”
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