Wales have played their ‘get out of jail card’: Gatland
TOKYO: Wales have played their “get out of jail card”, coach Warren Gatland said on Monday of his team’s nail-biting victory over France that set up a World Cup semi-final against South Africa this weekend.
The Welsh edged France 20-19 in their quarter-final in Oita, but will face the Springboks without No 8 Josh Navidi after Gatland confirmed he had been ruled out of the rest of the competition with a grade two hamstring injury.
Gatland said they would bring in a replacement on Tuesday, but said the management “haven’t made a decision yet” on who that might be. The Kiwi coach did say, however, it would not be a like-for-like backrow forward as he has five of the original six chosen still fit.
With Jonathan Davies nursing a knee injury that saw him ruled out of the France game an hour before kick-off and Hadleigh Parkes playing with a shoulder contusion and a bone fracture in his hand, the replacement would likely be another centre, with the names of Scott Williams and Owen Lane high on the list.
“It’s very disappointing for him,” Gatland said of Navidi. “He’s been very influential, very important for us for the last year. These games are so physical, to have only lost one player at this stage is a real positive for us.”
Turning to the victory over France, Gatland said: “We’re a bit disappointed about yesterday’s performance, we didn’t think we played as well as we could. France played exceptionally well, but in reflection I think we showed some great character out there and got the win. We’ve got to park last night and say we’ve played our get out of jail card and get excited about this week.”
Gatland said South Africa would likely be very similar to France in their linespeed in defence and kicking game to put Wales under pressure. “We’re fairly familiar with South Africa, we’ve had some close encounters in recent years and we’ve had some good success,” he said, with Wales having won five of the last six Tests between the two teams dating back to 2014.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game, but we’ll be up for it, we’ll be ready for challenges posed for us on Sunday and we’re excited about where we are at the moment and the chance to be in a World Cup final.” Centre Davies, Gatland added, will “hopefully be fit and available” for the match against the Boks. “We missed his experience against France,” he said.
Gatland was keen to paint Wales as underdogs for the last-four clash. “If you look at the numbers of adult males playing rugby in Wales, we had lowest contingent of eight quarter-finalists,” he said.
“We’re punching massively above our weight and what we’ve achieved in the last 18 months or so in terms of 18, 19 competitive games we’ve won in a row is something pretty special. We’re here now, you’ve got to step up to next stage and that is a semi-final game.”