Rhys Patchell has praised Dan Biggar’s bravery and competitive spirit for setting the tone during Wales’ stunning World Cup victory over Australia.
It was Patchell who came off the bench to kick 14 points in the hugely significant 29-25 World Cup win in Tokyo, but the Scarlets star revealed it is his rival for the No.10 shirt who sets a high bar in terms of his will to win.
“Dan is awesome,” said Patchell about Biggar, who was taken off for a head injury assessment (HIA) after a try-saving tackle on Australia centre Samu Kerevi.
“He takes a lot of heat in the press for whatever reason but it’s only when you are around him on a day-to-day basis you realise what an unbelievable competitor he is and how much he wants to win.
“”Fair play, that was a real act of bravery on our line. Dan flew into Kerevi. We were thinking that maybe here’s a try and then he comes in with that tackle.
“It was great to be out there and great to be able to help out in what was a massive squad effort.”
Patchell and Biggar were both behind Gareth Anscombe in the fly-half pecking order until the Cardiff Blues No.10 was injured and ruled out of the tournament after rupturing knee ligaments against England.
Biggar – the recognised match closer for Wales during the Six Nations – moved up the ladder to start against both Georgia and the Wallabies – while Patchell has gone from fourth choice at stages last season to the man now charged with guiding Wales over the finish line.
It was a role he played to perfection on Sunday in Tokyo, capping an accomplished performance, in which he out played opposite number Bernard Foley and then Matt Toomua, with a conversion, three penalties and a drop goal.
He also took a forearm to the chest from ball-carrier Kerevi, which deflected into his throat, but showed sufficient composure to recover and then land the controversial penalty kick.
Both Wales supporters and Gatland have not always had complete faith in Patchell. He suffered a loss of form last season following a series of head knocks and the Wallabies clearly imagined they could at least get inside his head and erode his confidence with some full-frontal charges – just as Ireland had tried in Wales’ final tournament warm-up game.
But the 26-year-old dealt with everything the Australians could throw at him and is now looking forward to Wales’ remaining pool matches against Fiji and Uruguay.
“We just had to dig in and stick in there,” said Patchell. “The game ebbs and flows. One big hit, one turnover, one miraculous catch and the game can swing back towards you.
“You have got to try and withstand the pressure but sometimes you have to roll with it and know that you will get your chance.
“It was a big game for both sides but thankfully we came out the right side.”
If those remaining two matches go to expectation, then the likely quarter-final for Wales and Patchell will now be against France, rather than England.
“We said we needed a big performance. It is good that we went to the wire with them and came out the right side of the ledger,” he added after Wales’s first World Cup win over the Wallabies in 32 years.
“We have put ourselves in a good position but there are two games still to go in the group and it’s important that we rest up properly, recover properly and prepare correctly for Fiji.
“This is a job well done in terms of getting the result but it doesn’t count for anything if we don’t back it up against Fiji.”
Gatland admitted there have been concerns over Patchell’s defensive capabilities in the past and that Wales have worked on ironing out the wrinkles.
“Rhys did a fantastic job for us,” said Gatland.
“He’s been criticised a lot for his defence in the past. We changed a few things about the way he defended, and I though his line speed was excellent.
“He made some big tackles for us and controlled the game pretty well. It was a big match for him to come on early and get the win, and he will get a lot of confidence from that.”
“It’s important we now prepare the best we can for the remaining games and don’t take anything for granted. We’ve got to be as clinical as you possibly can be.”
Wales face Fiji at Oita Stadium on 9 October before finishing their pool campaign against Uruguay at Kumamoto Stadium four days later.