Warren Gatland says Wales can do ‘something special’ and reach World Cup final
Wales coach Warren Gatland backed his players to go one better than in three previous Rugby World Cup campaigns and reach the final.
They were semi-finalists in 1987, and then twice under Gatland – 2011 and 2019 – bowing out at that stage on each occasion.
A bonus-point victory over Pool C rivals Fiji last weekend sent Wales off and running, and if they repeat the feat against Portugal on Saturday it would further strengthen quarter-final ambitions.
Australia and Georgia still await, before a possible last-eight appointment with England or Argentina in Marseille next month.
“We have always been confident in the past about World Cups and the opportunity to get the team together for an extended period,” Wales head coach Gatland said.
“We think that we have done well in previous World Cups and would like to get to a final of a World Cup.
“I stated beforehand don’t write us off and that this team is capable of doing something special, and I still believe that.
“Part of the key themes and key message before this World Cup was to make sure we are a hard team to beat, and if we are a hard team to beat then things can happen for you.
“The first priority is to be a really tough team to beat, and if we do that and get things right and our preparation is good and we don’t pick up too many injuries, then there is no reason why we can’t continue to progress a long way into this tournament. That is the plan.”
Portugal are next up, with Gatland making 13 changes to the team that started against Fiji, retaining only wing Louis Rees-Zammit and number eight Taulupe Faletau.
The countries have met just once before – a World Cup qualifier in Lisbon 29 years ago that Wales won 102-11 – with Portugal making a first appearance in the tournament’s pool stage since 2007.
Gatland added: “From past experience with Taulupe, he is a player that gets better with more game-time.
“He hasn’t had a lot of rugby, didn’t play any warm-up games, so it’s just backing him up.
“With Louis, it’s the same sort of situation. He has been fantastic in the last five or six weeks, and I just want to keep him playing as well.
“They (Portugal) are kind of a similar version of Fiji. They play a lot of rugby, they’ve got some exciting players, they like to move the ball around, so we are kind of prepared almost in the same way we prepared against Fiji.
“I thought from a neutral last week if you were watching the games, it (Wales against Fiji) was probably the most exciting game of the weekend in terms of the rugby that was played.
“It wasn’t great being a coach sitting in the box in the last 10 minutes, I can promise you that, but hopefully we can produce another great game of rugby.”
Fiji almost wiped out an 18-point deficit during a frantic final quarter in Bordeaux, while centre Semi Radradra couldn’t gather a pass in the dying seconds that might have led to him scoring a match-winning try.
Wales, though, held on in nerve-shredding fashion to claim a victory that has installed them in many quarters as favourites to win their group.
“We were delighted with the win, delighted with the preparation, everything was going brilliantly for 60-odd minutes with the scoreline. And typical Fiji, they get a bit of a sniff and they came back at us really strong in the last period,” Gatland said.
“That game is done and dealt with, it is past us now and the focus is on Portugal. Hopefully we will do a good job on Saturday and then move on to Australia next week.
“It is a great opportunity for players on Saturday to stake a claim, and if they go out there and someone has a great performance then they are definitely in contention. That’s the way I look at it.”
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