By Paul Jones
Just a point.
That is all Wales need from their final pool match against Georgia in order to guarantee themselves top spot in Pool C.
It doesn’t sound much until you reflect on the fact that Wales actually lost 13-12 to the same opponents in Cardiff 326 days ago.
A similar one-point losing margin would still give Wales the losing bonus point they require to top the pool, but there will be no-one in the Wales camp thinking about a first defeat of the tournament.
The men in red are determined to keep the winning momentum of victories over Fiji, Portugal and Australia rolling on in Nantes on Saturday afternoon.
DragonBet reckon it will be payback for Wales. They back Wales at 14/1 to win the game, offer the draw at 25/1, and make the Georgians 9/1 outsiders to repeat their famous win.
Wales have come down to 13/2 to reach the final, but can still be backed at 25/1 to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy.
That desire to keep the wagons rolling before a quarter-final against either Argentina or Japan, is the motivation for Wales – more than any desire for avenging that defeat a year ago.
Should the worse happen, – and Wales lose by more than seven points – then failure to pick up a losing bonus point could well cost them top spot, meaning Fiji would top the pool and Warren Gatland’s men would have a very unwanted meeting with resurgent England.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) October 2, 2023
Wales prop Gareth Thomas played in that humbling defeat to the Georgians in the last days of the Wayne Pivac era.
Thomas recalls: “Georgia’s scrum is what won them the game against us in the autumn last year.
“They are just such a physical side. Set-piece stuff we have to be on top of our game, as we know they are going to come strong.
“We have come a long way since the start of the summer, but we know this week will be a big test for us.”
So far, the Georgians have proved stubborn opponents, but haven’t come close to the levels they showed in Cardiff in 2022.
They lost 35-15 to Australia, drew 18-18 with Portugal, and were beaten 17-12 by Fiji.
Wales can make it four wins from four and will be strongly fancied to now make at least the semi-final.
At this point, they are most likely to meet either Ireland or New Zealand at that stage.
— Oom Rugby (@SpringboksFans) October 5, 2023
A final could be against any remaining team, but the most obvious candidates following the draw are France, South Africa or England.
Thomas added: “We want to keep the momentum going that we’ve had over the last few weeks here, trying to hold onto that and push and grow as a team as we go forward to the quarter-finals.
“We are a completely different team to what we were last year.
“There has been a massive improvement in the squad, but we know that they are a very good side and we have to be on top of our game to be successful this weekend.
“It is the time we have spent together and the amount of work we have put in together. You cannot fault the amount of effort that has gone in this summer.
“The confidence within the team at the minute is something I haven’t felt before. We are in a good place.”
Gatland named his starting line-up three days earlier than he needed to, making six changes from the Wallabies encounter.
Hooker Dewi Lake will captain the team, with his co-skipper Jac Morgan rested from the matchday 23.
There are also starts for wing Rio Dyer, fly-half Gareth Anscombe, scrum-half Tomos Williams, lock Dafydd Jenkins and flanker Tommy Reffell.
Anscombe, who scored 23 points in the Australia match, starts instead of Dan Biggar.
The Toulon player went off early during the Wallabies clash after suffering a pectoral muscle strain, but it expected to be fit by the time of the quarter-finals.