Wales fans Lyon

Wales' hooker Ryan Elias celebrates with fans at the end of the France 2023 Rugby World Cup Pool C match between Wales and Australia at the OL Stadium in Decines-Charpieu near Lyon, south-eastern France on September 24, 2023. (Photo by Olivier CHASSIGNOLE / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP via Getty Images)

Kings Of Lyon . . . Wales Fans Celebrate Into The Morning After The Night Before

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From Hamish Stuart in France

The Welsh fans ran out of songs to sing long before the celebrations ran out, after watching Australia routed in a way none had seen in their lifetimes.

The helplessness of Wales against Australia on occasion down the years was replicated, but in mirror image.

It was a reverse of the 1991 World Cup game when Wales, starved of possession and pummeled on the scoreboard, simply had nowhere to turn, no tactic left to try.

That’s where Australia ended the game, unable to kick the ball in basic areas, unable to take part in a set piece without conceding a penalty, clueless on how to compete.

It was surreal for anyone who has watched Wales v Australia games since 1984.

There was almost too little to analyse, not enough debate to digest. Wales were pretty good, Australia were awful – that was it.

So, the fans turned to song early, but only knowing one verse and the chorus – maybe fewer male voice choir members to maintain the momentum, Delilah either taken off the list out of taste or simply forgotten – that did not take long enough.

Even a rendition of La Marseillaise could only prolong things so far. Sometimes happiness can be silent, even for Welsh rugby fans.

The Wales squad have been lifted by the support. Forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys revealed: “We showed the videos of fans singing before the Fiji game, to see the sea of red.

“There are loads of videos like that and when you are in a bubble away from all that, then when you see it, it really is incredible.

“The whole thing, leaving the hotel with the families clapping you onto the bus, just seeing the excitement of the seas of red going in on the bus – it has been like that everywhere we have been, and we have been to a few cities.

“It is such a massive buzz and they feel it as players. When you see the middle of cities full of red and people singing the national anthem, it is just awesome, a great, great feeling.”

The Wales management are maintaining their ‘next game’ approach and to be fair Wales have unfinished business against Georgia.

But there are plenty of differences. As Humphreys said: “It was only a few short months ago they beat us at the stadium so we will be treating them with massive respect.

“It was difficult to watch at the end of that game, but we had people who had not played in eight months coming on in that game. Now, we have people who are fit, prepared and definitely want to go out and do a job.”

Any old win against Georgia will see Wales top the group and almost certainly face Argentina or Japan in the quarter-finals.

The good news is that both of those teams are a bit like Australia – pale shadows of their former selves, going through the motions of previous successes rather than playing with clear purpose.

I watched Argentina struggle past Samoa in St Etienne. The Pumas were toothless against England, who won through George Ford’s kicking. They were almost as toothless against Samoa, but the islanders couldn’t kick as well as Ford.

Japan, against England, lacked the extra dimension they possessed in the last two World Cups.

That clash between Argentina and Japan is in Nantes the day after Wales play Georgia at the same venue, but the Wales squad will head back to Versailles rather than scouting their next opponents.

It was impossible not to be pleased for the Wales players as they left the stadium in Lyon a few minutes after the dejected Australians had trudged past, heads down.

Gareth Anscombe more than deserved his moment in the sun, an injury in the 2019 World Cup warm-ups leading to a tough few years.

A broken thumb in Turkey almost meant another World Cup missed.

The performance against Australia goes part of the way towards making the massive recovery efforts worthwhile.

Gareth Davies – left out of the squad not so long ago with his defence not trusted, back darting into the heart of any Australian move, making it hard for them to build any momentum.

Adam Beard revelling in his 50th cap, at the age of 27 he will get many more.

Nick Tompkins, who has been one of the lynchpins of this Wales side, easily overlooked because of his smaller stature.

Plenty to talk about, plenty to revel in, with a few family days to look forward to before returning to the hard training ahead of Georgia – such rest and recuperation an impossibility during the intense fixtures of previous World Cups.

Wales deserve it.

Warren Gatland said this team would make the people of Wales proud, and that certainly reflects the mood of the many Welsh fans out here in France.

This column predicted they would equal the best ever Welsh finish in a World Cup of third. There is no reason to change that opinion.

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