2019 Rugby World Cup
- When: 20 September to 2 November
- Where: 12 locations across Japan
- Teams: 20
- Number of matches: 48
- UK TV channel: live on ITV
Wales are the form European nation of 2019. They won the Six Nations grand slam and last month knocked New Zealand from the world No.1 spot after beating England in Cardiff.
And yet despite those achievements there is a nagging fear among Welsh fans ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
A week before grinding out that dour 13-6 win against England, the Welsh were thrashed 33-19 at Twickenham in what for both nations was the first warm-up match of the summer.
The defeat brought to an end Wales’s 14-match unbeaten streak (which included wins against Australia and two against South Africa), but they’ve since suffered two more reverses, both against Ireland.
Warm-up games, for sure, but nonetheless success is built on momentum and suddenly Wales have lost theirs.
On a more positive note, they’re in one of the easier RWC pools with Australia their biggest challengers ahead of Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay.
Having said that, Wales fans will need no reminding of what happened in 2007 when the Fijians beat them 38-34 in a ripsnorter of an encounter.
Fit for purpose
“If we play as well as we have for the last year, then we can bring home the World Cup,” said coach Warren Gatland in the wake of the Six Nations grand slam success.
“We’ll have a few months of preparation and as we have in the last few World Cups, we’ll be one of the fittest teams, if not the fittest team there.”
There are two main areas of concern for the Welsh. First, they’re not a nation that traditionally travels particularly well and they’ve often struggled to transfer their bullying, swaggering form in Cardiff overseas.
Despite the fact that they’re the most successful country in the Six Nations this century with four grand slam titles, they’ve never reached a World Cup final, with two semi-final appearances (1987 and 2011) their best showing.
There’s also a lack of strength in depth in certain areas, certainly compared to the likes of England and South Africa.
That’s already an issue with Wales reduced to two fit second-rows before the tournament has begun, while they have also lost first-choice fly-half Gareth Anscombe and No.8 Taulupe Faletau to injury.
With another fly-half, Rhys Patchell, struggling to recover from a head knock, they can’t afford to lose any more trial men early in the tournament.
That explains why they are not one of the tournament favourites with bookies rating their odds at 12/1 behind New Zealand, South Africa, England and Ireland.
Dare to dream
Those odds won’t worry Wales, who are used to being written off by the world’s press, and in Alun Wyn Jones they have arguably the most inspirational captain in the tournament.
The 33-year-old second row needs two more caps to overtake Gethin Jenkins as his country’s most capped player, however, it’s not individual landmarks that interest him but what the team can achieve.
“I dreamt to play for Wales and if you do that you want to win a grand slam,” he said. “You win a grand slam, what’s the next best thing?”
The Welsh nation hopes the answer will be held in his hands on 2 November.
Wales RWC fixtures and squad
Pool D: Australia, Fiji, Wales, Georgia, Uruguay
All times below are UK and matches are live on ITV.
- 21 September: Australia vs. Fiji (5.45am; Sapporo Dome, Sapporo)
- 23 September: Wales vs. Georgia (11.15am; City of Toyota Stadium, Aichi)
- 25 September: Fiji vs. Uruguay (6.15am; Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, Kamaishi)
- 29 September: Georgia vs. Uruguay (6.15am; Prefectual Kumagaya Rugby Grounds, Kumagaya)
- 29 September: Australia vs. Wales (8.45am; Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)
- 3 October: Georgia vs. Fiji (6.15am; Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka)
- 5 October: Australia vs. Uruguay (6.15am; Oita Stadium, Oita)
- 9 October: Wales vs. Fiji (10.45am; Oita Stadium, Oita)
- 11 October: Australia vs. Georgia (11.15am; Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, Shizuoka)
- 13 October: Wales vs. Uruguay (9.15am; Kumamoto Prefectural Athletic Stadium, Kumamoto)
Wales RWC squad
- Head coach: Warren Gatland
- Forwards: Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Rhys Carre, James Davies, Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis, Ross Moriarty, Josh Navidi, Ken Owens, Aaron Shingler, Nicky Smith, Justin Tipuric, Aaron Wainwright
- Backs: Josh Adams, Hallam Amos, Dan Biggar, Aled Davies, Gareth Davies, Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Hadleigh Parkes, Rhys Patchell, Owen Watkin, Liam Williams, Tomos Williams