5 talking points as Wales face Georgia in final World Cup pool match

By Sports Desk October 06, 2023

Wales play their final Rugby World Cup pool game when they tackle Georgia in Nantes on Saturday.

Warren Gatland’s team booked a quarter-final place by beating Australia in record-breaking fashion last time out and they require one point to finish top of the group.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the talking points heading into the game at Stade de la Beaujoire.

Wales in charge of World Cup pool

Wales’ World Cup form has proved a far cry from the misery of last season’s Six Nations, when they only avoided the wooden spoon by beating Italy in Rome. There were doubts whether Wales even would progress from a pool that also included Australia, Fiji and Georgia, but three-successive wins, a quarter-final place secured one game inside the distance and only one point now required to top the group highlight how dominant Gatland’s team have been. Given their struggles of earlier in the year, few could have expected such an impressive revival.

Quarter-final opponents to be decided

While Wales got the job done early in terms of progressing from their group, a race for runners-up spot in Pool D will come down to an eliminator between Argentina and Japan on Sunday. The Pumas have proved underwhelming so far, losing comprehensively to 14-man England, before edging out Samoa and then providing only glimpses of form when they eased past minnows Chile. Across their three games, Japan have looked more impressive, setting up an intriguing encounter in Nantes for the likely right to face Gatland’s team at Stade Velodrome, Marseille next week. Wales’ World Cup record against Argentina and Japan is strong – played five, won five.

Warren Gatland has weaved his magic

When Gatland returned for a second stint as Wales head coach at the start of 2023 – his first was laden with Six Nations titles, Grand Slams and World Cup consistency – he took charge at a time when results had dropped through the floor and confidence plummeted. The Six Nations played out against a back-drop of financial concerns in Welsh professional rugby and contractual worries for players, with strike action only averted just days before Wales met England in Cardiff. But after an uninterrupted World Cup preparation period that started in late May, Gatland has moulded a squad seemingly on course for a third semi-final appearance during the last four global tournaments, underlining his status among the game’s finest coaches of any era.

Gareth Anscombe at the controls

There would have been a collective holding of breath by Wales supporters when Dan Biggar went off injured after just 12 minutes during a record 40-6 victory over Australia in Lyon. A pectoral muscle strain forced the fly-half’s early exit, but Wales were in safe hands as Gareth Anscombe replaced him and equalled Biggar’s best of 23 points for Wales in one World Cup game, booting a drop-goal, conversion and six penalties. It was a wonderfully-assured display by Anscombe, who retains his place against Georgia, while Biggar recovers and remains on course to be available for the quarter-finals.

Wales mindful of Georgia threat

Wales know from painful experience exactly what Georgia are capable of. It was less than a year ago that Wales endured a calamity in Cardiff, losing 13-12 at the Principality Stadium as Georgia’s shock victory effectively signalled the end of Wayne Pivac’s coaching reign. It was an abject display, even allowing for Georgia’s impressive second-half performance when their forwards took charge and pummelled Wales into submission. Four of that starting XV will be in the line-up on Saturday – Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Tomos Williams and Gareth Thomas – and while a repeat result looks highly unlikely, Wales know they must be on their guard.

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    A crowd of up to 50,000 is expected to watch the Red Roses continue their Grand Slam quest in their first match at the venue since last year’s rollercoaster victory over France that clinched the title.

    England have averaged 47 points a game in their three wins to date but Hunt wants the attack that has been enhanced under head coach John Mitchell to take another step forward.

    “We just want it to click for us. There are 47,000 in Twickenham from what I have been told and we want to put on a show,” said the Gloucester-Hartpury scrum-half, who is enjoying a Test resurgence since missing out on the 2022 World Cup.

    “The best is yet to come for us, I truly believe that. We’ve spoken about the discipline and the penalties, but also our one-team attack – every time we train it is starting to look better and better.

    “I just want it to click so you can all see what we are seeing in training because we’ve not got there yet.

    “I’m really enjoying the way we are trying to play, how positive everything is and the way we are trying to go after defences. It’s the way I want to play rugby.”

    England have a 100 per cent record in the tournament despite seeing Sarah Beckett and Amy Cokayne sent off against Italy and Scotland, respectively.

    The red cards have fed into the ‘game is unfair’ mantra adopted under Mitchell as the Kiwi looks to turn the game’s dominant force into world champions by preparing them for moments when circumstances have conspired against them.

    Lydia Thompson’s dismissal for a high tackle on Portia Woodman that contributed to England’s defeat by New Zealand in the 2022 World Cup final has given Mitchell’s message powerful affirmation.

    “When Mitch put a picture up of Lyds and said ‘the game isn’t fair’, it hit so many of us in our hearts because Lyds is the most unbelievable human and obviously that moment was tough for everyone,” Hunt said.

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    “If I’m in the thick of these decisions all the time and every time I don’t quite agree with something, that sentence genuinely rings true. I think, ‘game is unfair – move on’.”

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    The Red Roses have been shown two red cards in three matches, with number eight Sarah Beckett dismissed in the opener against Italy and hooker Amy Cokayne sent off against Scotland.

    Both opponents were crushed despite England being reduced to 14 players as they continue their march to a sixth successive Championship title with the visit of Ireland to Twickenham on Saturday.

    While Mitchell wants technique to be refined where needed, he views his team’s physicality as an important weapon.

    “I want us to continue to play on the edge, but I also want us to be aware around how we need to change our behaviour,” the Red Roses head coach said.

    “In Amy’s incident, she needs to get her head under the ball. Obviously that’s something you put the ownership on the individual to change.

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    Beckett received a three-match ban for a dangerous clearout while Cokayne’s two yellow cards for a dangerous clearout and dangerous tackle resulted in a one-game suspension.

    Both players will be available for the probable Grand Slam decider against France on Saturday week.

    England had rehearsed for the eventuality of losing their number eight and hooker in the build up to each game after defence coach Sarah Hunter had presented them as scenarios in training.

    “We’ve told Sarah Hunter not to give us any more scenarios!” captain Marlie Packer joked.

    “So she might have said at the beginning of the Six Nations ‘eight go off the pitch’. That might have happened.

    “And then last week ‘hooker you’ve got a card, go off’. And that might have happened in a game. So we’ve kind of told Sarah not to do that any more!”

    Almost 50,000 are expected at Twickenham on Saturday and in anticipation of the atmosphere, England have adapted training at their Surrey base.

    “Early on in the week, when we do more low-key training in the barn inside, we can put crowd noise in. I personally loved it,” he said.

    “It paints a different picture for us. It’s been a new thing that we’ve brought in this week which has raised our game. Hopefully we can put it out on the pitch on Saturday.”

    Packer has been restored at openside for the visit of Ireland, forcing Zoe Aldcroft to move from back row to lock, while Lark Atkin-Davies replaces the suspended Cokayne at hooker.

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    Owens won two Grand Slams and two further Six Nations titles during his 91 caps for Wales, whom he led during last year’s Six Nations.

    “Reluctantly, I am announcing my retirement from rugby. Not playing has been challenging, but the time is right to follow medical advice and hang up my boots,” he said.

    “Had I written the script there would have been one more game for Wales, for the Scarlets and ultimately Carmarthen Athletic. A chance to sign off and thank everyone involved.

    “It was not to be. It might not be the dream ending, but my career has been more than I could have dreamt of.

    “Whilst part of me wishes I could have done more, I am well aware that if you had told me as a kid I would be fortunate enough to experience what I have, to have worked with and played with the people I have and taken the pleasure I have from this amazing game, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

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