Wales scraped into the World Cup semi-finals by the skin of their teeth against an impressive France. The Welsh needed a controversial late try by Ross Moriarty to edge the match 20-19, despite the French being reduced to 14 men.
On the face it, it was a performance that hardly inspires confidence. But never fear. Wales may have ridden their luck but they have the talent and the temperament to beat South Africa this weekend and reach the World Cup final.
Wales have never made it to a World Cup decider before, but with New Zealand and England on the other side of the draw they will never have a better chance of lifting the William Webb Ellis trophy. And here’s five reasons why the Dragons faithful can be optimistic heading into Sunday’s showdown.
Historically over the decades, Wales don’t have a great record against the Springboks, but that has changed in recent times. The last time they met, in November 2018, Wales prevailed 20-11.
The game before that, in Washington D.C. last June, they won 22-20. And before that, in December 2017 and in November 2016, they were also victorious. The fear factor is long gone. Wales know they have the Boks’ measure and can be beaten. They enjoy a great winning run against them and will relish the challenge.
South Africa tend to employ a conservative game-plan that involves kicking the ball away a lot, quick line-speed, box-kicks and punishing defences. But Wales are used to combatting this style, as it is similar to what Ireland, England and Scotland employ. As long as they remain safe under the high ball and keep their error count low, Wales have the weapons to worry the Boks.
In George North, Liam Williams, Amos Roberts and Jonathan Davies they have elusive ball-carriers who can do damage. They can also mix up their playing style to keep their opponents guessing.
Defence is what won Wales this year’s Six Nations - they stopped and frustrated their rivals’ attacking manoeuvres. South Africa are big and strong, with speed out wide, and will ask questions. But Wales know they can hold out opponents for long periods.
They did it against both England and Ireland in the Six Nations, and it was the backbone of their title success. Their defence hasn’t been as miserly in Japan as the rest of the 18 months, but they know when the pressure is on they can produce and muscle up.
Warren Gatland’s 12-year reign as Wales coach ends at this tournament. What better way to send him out than with a spot in the World Cup final, and as a first-time winner? Gatland has been great for Wales, winning four Six Nations titles and reaching a World Cup semi-final in 2011.
This is the chance for his time in charge to end on a high. Also, this tournament is the final roll of the dice for a lot of key players – Ken Owens, Bradley Davies, captain Alun Wyn Jones and Aaron Shingler. The likes of Justin Tipuric and Jonathan Davies may not play in another World Cup again because of their age, while Gareth Davies, Dan Biggar and Josh Navidi are at the peak of their powers at the moment. It’s now or never for this generation.
Wales played badly against France, they surely can’t play that badly again can they? That performance was well below par, and now they have got it out of their system they should start strongly like they did against Australia.
You can’t expect to play perfectly for seven games straight at a World Cup, but you do need to win seven games to win the tournament. Wales got a win while playing poorly against France, but are now primed for a powerful performance.