Warren Gatland is happy for Wales to fly under the radar at the Rugby World Cup, even if they are strong favourites to see off France and reach the semi-finals.
Australia coach Michael Cheika labelled the reigning Six Nations champions as favourites ahead of the Wallabies’ clash with Gatland’s side in Pool D.
Wales edged out Australia 29-25 on their way to finishing top of the group with a perfect record, yet Gatland believes other teams still left standing in the tournament are getting “a lot more talk” in the media.
Still, they will be strongly fancied to see off France in an all-European quarter-final tie, having come from 16-0 down to beat them 24-19 in Paris in their opening Six Nations match.
“If you take out the World Cup warm-up games, we have won 18 competitive games in a row, we are Grand Slam champions and we know, as we go on in tournaments, we get stronger and more confident and more cohesive as a unit,” Gatland said.
“We are building nicely, going under the radar. There is still a lot more talk about other teams and games and that suits us. We’ve had a great record against France – we’ve won seven of the last eight games.
“There was an edge to this week and the players have been incredibly professional in the way they’ve prepared.
“The message to the players is you’ve got two choices – we are either on the plane on Monday going home or we are here until the end of the tournament.”
— Welsh Rugby Union (@WelshRugbyUnion) October 18, 2019
Maxime Medard acknowledged France must rise to the challenge on Sunday, or else Wales will dominate them at Oita Stadium.
“If we don’t raise our level, the Welsh are going to ride all over us,” the full-back told the media. “The Welsh have to be favourites. The team has been one of the best in the world for several years.
“You have to keep in mind that the difference between the big teams and the rest is that, in games where you’re in trouble, where it turns into an arm wrestle, the big teams don’t give in. Wales are a very big team.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Wales – Josh Adams
Dan Biggar’s availability is a boost to Wales, the fly-half fit to feature following a blow to the head against Fiji, but it is Josh Adams who seems most likely to grab the headlines.
Adams has scored five tries already and the Cardiff Blues wing will be eager to propel Wales into the last four.
France – Guilhem Guirado
Having been left out of France’s past two matches following a reported bust-up with coach Jacques Brunel, hooker Guilhem Guirado will return to lead Les Bleus as captain.
If ever there was an opportunity to show his worth, then this will surely be it for the 33-year-old.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– France beat Wales 9-8 in the only previous World Cup meeting between the sides – the 2011 semi-final. Wales captain Sam Warburton was sent off after 18 minutes of the contest.
– Wales won all of their pool stage matches for the first time since 1987. This four-game winning streak is their joint longest at the World Cup and they have never won five in a row in the competition.
– Since the start of 2018, France have lost six Test matches in which they have been leading at half-time.
– Alun Wyn Jones is in line to play a record 19th World Cup match for Wales, surpassing Gethin Jenkins’ tally of 18 appearances.
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