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Form, Results, Absent Stars, Injuries, World Cup History . . . Is It Even Worth Wales Turning Up?

The World Cup starts next week and after another Grand Slam season optimism is in the air across the nation. But, wait . . . here’s our brooding columnist Robin Davey – the Prince of Pessimism – to find plenty of dark clouds on the horizon.

Wales have landed in Japan – where they have a date with their World Cup destiny – amid real concerns, not to say grave doubts, about how they will perform.

For they were beaten in three of their four World Cup warm-up matches, once fairly comfortably by England at Twickenham before conceding the double at the hands of Ireland.

Their sole success came in the England return at the Principality Stadium, a result which was not particularly convincing.

In the process of these dress rehearsal fixtures, Wales, at times, showed an alarming frailty in the set pieces – struggling in the line-out and often overwhelmed in the scrums.

On top of that it’s now clearer than ever that Wales will severely miss Taulupe Faletau, one of the best No. 8s in the world, but still sidelined with his shoulder and arm problems.

In his absence, Wales have been forced to persist with Ross Moriarty in the position when really he’s more of a number six, though perfectly capable of playing in the middle of the back row.

But there is no real replacement for the former Dragons player who seems to have been injured ever since he crossed the bridge into England to join Bath.

Then there is the outside-half issue – Rhys Patchell and Cory Hill the two players in question – not to mention the concern at lock.

Patchell has previously suffered two concussions which have kept him out for some time amid worries about his rugby-playing future.

Then, he had to leave the field again last Saturday after suffering a further blow, attempting to stop Irish back rower CJ Stander.

He didn’t return after failing an HIA assessment but the Wales camp are confident he will be fully fit to take part in the World Cup, though World Rugby can order an independent examination once Patchell is in in Japan if they feel it is necessary.

So, there must be some concern.

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And at lock, Cory Hill has flown out with the squad even though it has already been admitted he will not be fit for the opening game against Georgia a week on Monday.

He hasn’t played since February when he damaged an ankle while scoring a try against England and, worse than that, it has more recently been discovered he has a small fracture in his leg.

Again, the medics are confident he’ll be fit for the World Cup, if not for the first game then for the second against Australia.

So, a background of defeats and injuries is not the ideal way for Wales to go into the global tournament and face a potentially difficult pool in which Australia and Fiji are the real dangers.

Wales will surely get the better of Georgia, twice beaten easily by Scotland in recent weeks, and minnows Uruguay. But Australia and Fiji are a different kettle of fish altogether.

Wales have finally ended their losing run against the Wallabies, but their rivals are showing signs of reviving. And key back row forward David Pocock believes they can go all the way in the tournament.

Most people know all about Fiji. For the few who may not, the Fijians dramatically ended Wales’ World Cup hopes back in 2007 when they beat them in Nantes, a result which heralded the end of Gareth Jenkins’ reign as coach.

So, there appear to be a fair amount of negatives on the eve of the tournament for which Wales have been installed as fifth favourites by the bookies.

But, there are grounds for optimism, too.

It may be convenient for coaches and players to dismiss World Cup warm-up games as mere rehearsals, that they don’t really count and that what happens in the actual tournament is the real test, but that is actually true.

The warm-up matches are needed to get the ring rustiness out of the squad after a lengthy lay-off, the Northern Hemisphere ones at least. It’s an opportunity to try out and rehearse systems, not to mention raising money for the respective unions, of course.

Head Coach Warren Gatland of Wales.
Pic: Simon King/Replay Images.

Wales did show considerable improvement at scrum and line-out last week

and from a defensive perspective Wales did adopt a they-shall-not-pass mentality. Defence coach Shaun Edwards will be delighted with that.

Most important of all, Wales have Warren Gatland in charge for one final time. He is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the world, if not the best, which will be worth a head start.

In his 12 years in charge Wales have won four Six Nations titles and three Grand Slams, while Gatland also guided them to a record-breaking 14 successive victories.

His man-management skills are renowned while he has helped develop the pool of players, adding considerably to the depth of the squad.

On that basis of the Gatland factor alone, it would be foolish to dismiss Wales’ World Cup chances.

But it’s going to be tough – very tough.

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