Rugby Union: Wales resolve to win the day: Robert Cole finds a mood of realism at the start of a World Cup campaign

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STATISTICIANS may be sharpening their pencils at the prospect of updating the Principality's record victory, but the Welsh players left for their matches in the Iberian Peninsular yesterday with a far more realistic view of the task they face.

Neither Portugal nor Spain should be capable of testing the Five Nations champions in their World Cup qualifying matches next week, which has led to many fabulous predictions from the pundits.

But the defeat by Canada last year and the pain of failing to reach the last eight of the 1991 World Cup have left deep scars on the Welsh, and they will not be easily tempted into over-confidence. It has also produced in them a much firmer resolve, epitomised by the captain, Ieuan Evans, and back-row forward Scott Quinnell.

Evans crossed for six tries when he played for Wales B against Spain in 1985. The match ended in an 80-9 win for Wales and while Evans would happily settle for a similar outcome this time he is more concerned with the result than the score.

'If we were to lose either of these games it would be an unmitigated disaster,' he said. 'That is why we must approach them both in a very serious frame of mind.

'This is the World Cup and there is no room for either complacency or mercy. There is a lot going on, a lot at stake and I want us to develop further our style and pattern of play in these two matches.'

Quinnell, who collected the Whitbread / Rugby World young player of the year award last week, also believes that points gained in the league table are infinitely more important than points gained under the posts.

'We discovered the hard way against Canada that you can take nothing for granted in world rugby these days,' he said. 'But there is no need for us to have negative thoughts. We improved throughout the Five Nations and feel we are still getting better, but there will be no thought of complacency.'

Portugal have just completed their worst series of results in a recent international tournament, losing all four of their group matches, and although the margins were small, defeats by Belgium, Germany, Tunisia and Morocco can scarcely have put them in the right frame of mind to take on Wales.

The Portugal coach and former London Scottish scrum-half, Andy Cushing, has just 22 clubs and around 2,000 players from which to choose and he admits that when compared with the Portuguese passion for soccer, rugby union can be likened to tiddlywinks.

'There is no way on earth that we are going to win,' Cushing said. 'In fact, the result is irrelevant. I cannot see us lasting the pace, but at least we have a chance of keeping the score down, whereas a couple of years ago it would have been total annihilation.

'People are working very hard to put the game right in Portugal and the match against Wales should be a great learning process. The size of the defeat will indicate the length of the road we have to travel.'