Cardiff: Wales’ romp to the Grand Slam and a first Six Nations title in six years has elevated their chances in the eyes of many at this year’s World Cup in Japan as coach Warren Gatland instills a confidence that has them fearing no challenge.
Gatland masterminded Six Nations wins over England and Ireland, albeit at home, as well as an opening away victory over France that in hindsight could be their most significant result in years.
Trailing 16-0 at halftime in Paris, the Welsh stormed back to win the game 24-19, providing a surge in confidence they have carried through the competition and will take to Japan.
“I don’t want to be too romantic about it with him sitting here but he (Gatland) alluded to the fact that when you’ve got someone so confident at the top of the tree, that filters down and it’s hard to ignore,” Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones told reporters.
“It’s easy to say off the back of a win but we’ve come under some pressure over the years, when it has been backs against the wall and it takes a certain type of character to come through the mire. He’s pretty much the guy who has done that.” What Gatland has built in the last 12 months, on his way to 14 Test wins in a row, is a squad of with new depth, weaving in younger players full of enthusiasm for the challenge along with the older, more experienced guard.
“I don’t know if I’m getting soft in my old age or if it’s because I’ve got kids now but when you see young men come into the side and grow over an eight-week period, you feel proud,” Jones says.
“I’m really proud for such a small nation to be able to do that. Proud is the word for everything we represent, from our country to our families, we just try to show that.”
The way that Wales dismantled defending champions Ireland in their 25-7 victory to claim the Six Nations on Saturday was a reminder, if one was needed, that they are genuine contenders for a first World Cup title.
“The message before the game was very simple be proud of what you represent, who you are and where you’re from. If you work hard enough, you get your rewards,” Jones said, a mantra they will carry to Japan.
Gatland has announced that he will be leaving his post with Wales after the World Cup, where his side have been pooled with Australia, Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay.