Warren Gatland: It would be ‘huge achievement’ if Wales can reach semi-finals
Warren Gatland says it would be “a huge achievement” if Wales reach their third Rugby World Cup semi-final in the last four tournaments by beating Argentina on Saturday.
Gatland’s team face the Pumas in Marseille after dominating a pool that some thought they might not qualify from following a dismal Six Nations campaign last season.
Four successive wins and 19 points collected saw them leave sides like Fiji and Australia in their slipstream to set up the Pumas clash at Stade Velodrome.
“It would be our third semi-final, and then in 2015 we were leading South Africa for 75 minutes (in the quarter-finals) and conceded at the end,” Gatland said. “Reflecting on that, we would be pretty proud.
“I have always spoken about how much I have enjoyed the World Cup preparations.
“It is the only time you get to feel like you are a club side in getting that detail done. You feel like you have made a huge amount of progress.
“After all the challenges during the Six Nations, with the potential (player) strike and the contracts and the money with the Union (Welsh Rugby Union) and regions, as coaches we would joke about what would happen next, what would be the next thing thrown at us?.
“I definitely think there has been a line in the sand drawn under that. If we can make the semi-final it would be a huge achievement for this group of players and coaches, who have done a great job, and the back-room staff have been outstanding.
“I know there are some people and some teams out there who won’t want to face a Wales team when they start playing with confidence and when we start having momentum.
“That is when we are at our most dangerous. We are starting to look that way at the moment.”
Wales have not met Argentina in the World Cup for 24 years, but their recent form against them is impressive, having lost just two of the last 11 Tests.
And while Wales sailed through their group, Argentina lost to 14-man England, unconvincingly beat Samoa and then defeated Japan in what was a quarter-final eliminator.
Gatland added: “We are expecting them to come really hard at us. I don’t think anything changes, and the players are well aware of that.
“We talk about being on the edge mentally and you can’t be there at the top of that every single week, so it is how close you can get to it.
“We’ve had a couple of games already where we feel we have been really on the edge in a positive way, and a couple of games where we have been off two or three per cent, so it is how close you can get to that 100 per cent mental peak.
“I am expecting that will be right up there from that physical challenge that will come at us.”
Wales show one change from the side that beat Fiji and Australia, with Tommy Reffell called up to the back-row and Aaron Wainwright switching from blindside flanker to number eight instead of broken arm victim Taulupe Faletau.
Centre George North, meanwhile, will become the first Wales player to feature in four World Cup quarter-finals.
“It is an unbelievable achievement, especially when you realise it after how much hard work all of the boys in every team have to do for a World Cup – it is years in the undertaking,” North’s midfield partner, Nick Tompkins, said.
“So, for him to do it four times is pretty impressive. I am not sure I would be able to do that.
“It speaks volumes for the determination and kind of bloke he is. He is on the best form he has been on for a long, long time.”
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