Bring on the World Cup!
SIX NATIONS REACTION: Legendary Welsh flyhalf Barry John said the World Cup could not come around quick enough for Wales.
The Warren Gatland-coached Welsh team was hailed Sunday for the energy, drive and belief that powered them to the Six Nations Grand Slam.
The Welsh thumped Ireland 25-7 at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium on Saturday to follow victories over France (24-19), Italy (26-15), England (21-13) and Scotland (18-11).
It was also a 14th consecutive win, based around an iron-clad, swarming defence and an ever-strengthening squad coach Warren Gatland has forged around talismanic captain Alun Wyn Jones.
“You can see the camaraderie that Gatland and Alun Wyn have built so superbly,” ex-Wales and British and Irish Lions icon John said in his Wales on Sunday column.
“It’s resulted in the Grand Slam. Bring on the World Cup.”
- Continue reading below …
Wales, John continued, “are getting more and more confident and need fear nobody out in Japan”, where the World Cup runs from September 20 until November 2.
Former Welsh and Lions prop Graham Price said Wales were thriving on the winning momentum that has seen them rise to second in World Rugby standings.
“Get to the World Cup and anything can happen!” Price said, with Wales drawn in Pool D along with Australia, Fiji, Georgia and Uruguay.
“I am optimistic we are going to do well at the World Cup and, if we were to face the All Blacks, the later the better.”
Sam Warburton, who was named Welsh skipper at the age of 22 by Gatland and led Wales to their 2012 Grand Slam, hailed the “fairytale finish” for his former coach, who steps down from his job after the World Cup.
“It will be the most rewarding of his three Grand Slams because it is almost a fairytale to do this in his final Six Nations campaign,” Warburton said in the Sunday Times.
“To do it in a World Cup year too – the last team to complete the clean sweep in such a year were England in 2003 and look how that panned out (they won the World Cup) – makes it extra special.”
Warburton maintained that the sole team in world rugby he would worry about Wales playing were double defending world champions New Zealand.
“If it was anyone else at the moment, I would back Wales,” said the flank who retired from rugby last year after a succession of injuries.
“If somebody else beat New Zealand and knocked them out of the tournament, as a Welsh fan you would be thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is on’.”
Ian McGeechan, the former Scotland and Lions centre who was Gatland’s predecessor as Lions coach, hailed the New Zealander as a “fantastic servant” to Wales and northern hemisphere rugby in general.
“What I liked about this [Grand Slam] was the spirit Wales showed when they were under the cosh,” McGeechan said in the Sunday Telegraph.
“They never panicked. You cannot fake that.”
There can be no denying the pressure has been ramped up on Wales, where the public is notoriously fickle and every family, as the joke goes, has an international selector in their ranks.
But Warburton said Gatland had “simply changed the psychology of the nation”.
“Wales is now a team of achievers and the nation wants and believes that the team can achieve,” he said.