Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

Wales looking to emulate the England Rugby World Cup winning squad of 2003

Ahead of their opening game against Georgia, assistant coach Edwards says experience of the team will be an asset in Japan

Wales players training at the Toyota Stadium yesterday, ahead of their Rugby World Cup opener against Georgia. AFP 
Wales players training at the Toyota Stadium yesterday, ahead of their Rugby World Cup opener against Georgia. AFP 

Six Nations champions Wales believe the experience of their squad can help them follow in the footsteps of England's 2003 Rugby World Cup winners.

Assistant coach Shaun Edwards also said that the Welsh have been preparing for their tilt at a first World Cup win for the past two years. The furthest Wales have reached in the competition was the semi-finals in 1987 and 2011.

Wales, briefly ranked World Rugby's No 1 team in the lead-up to the tournament in Japan, kick off their Pool D campaign against Georgia at the Toyota Stadium on Monday. And they will field their oldest line-up in the competition – with an average age of 28 years and 331 days.

"We have been preparing for this for a very long time," said Edwards.

"[This has been] two years in the making. We are fully focused on Monday night against a formidable opponent, and one that we have a lot of respect for. It is going to be physical, but we are here to compete.

"We are more experienced. Definitely more experienced. I was told that this is the most experienced XV we have played at a Rugby World Cup.

"You look back at 2003, the only northern hemisphere team to win it was obviously England. They had an experienced team, a few guys over 30. I don't think that does you any harm."

But he stressed that Wales, who have been rocked by attack coach Rob Howley being sent home over betting allegations, were not thinking beyond the Georgia match.

"You can't look too far ahead. and I think heavyweight boxing has proved that over the last few months," said Edwards. Asked if he was referring to British boxer Anthony Joshua's shock defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr in June, he said: "And Tyson Fury the other night – he had a bad cut and could have lost that fight.

"I'm not saying anything about Anthony Joshua as I wasn't there, but there is no complacency in our team.

"Rugby is very emotive and you have to encourage that emotion, but we have to control that and use it in the right way. We aim to do that on Monday night."

Wales will be up against some familiar faces in Georgia head coach Milton Haig's backroom staff in the shape of ex-England internationals Graham Rowntree and Joe Worsley – the latter having played under Gatland and Edwards at Wasps.

"They will have them fired up," said Edwards. "Graham is a very charismatic character, Joe is a very detailed sort of person, so we know they will be prepared.

Worsley, a member of England's 2003 World Cup-winning squad, won 78 international caps and was a Wasps stalwart in Gatland's 2002-5 reign during which the club won three English Premiership titles and the European Cup.

"I've been watching Warren [Gatland] since he left Wasps. I saw what he did at Wasps, I experienced it, and I've seen from afar what he's done with the Welsh team," said the former flanker, who has spent the last seven years coaching at Bordeaux-Begles in the French Top 14.

"He's transformed the team who were knocked out by Fiji just before he got involved [at the 2007 Rugby World Cup] to a team that's winning Grand Slams and became the best in the world for a short period."

Updated: September 22, 2019 03:55 PM

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