Bruised and battered but just about in one piece – a big relief, given the extent of their existing casualty list – Wales can sit back, revel in the England-Australia hostilities at Twickenham on Saturday night and enjoy a leisurely nine days of preparation for their own meeting with the Wallabies on the final weekend of the pool stage. But for their head coach Warren Gatland, there is still great danger afoot.
“This game against Australia is a final for England, and when players have their backs against the wall – when they’re being criticised left, right and centre – they can be galvanised,” said the New Zealander.
“If England win, they can put themselves in the quarter-finals. I mean no disrespect to Uruguay, their last opponents, but England will fancy themselves for a bonus-point victory in that match. A victory for them will make our own contest with Australia pretty exciting, that’s for sure.
“If I’m being honest and entirely selfish about our own destiny, the Wallabies would do us a pretty big favour by beating England. It would send us into the knockout stage, wouldn’t it? But I’ll probably stay neutral this weekend. It’s pretty hard for a Kiwi to be jumping up and down, cheering for the Aussies.”
Sam Warburton, the Wales captain, admitted he was close to exhaustion after two desperately hard games in the space of five days. “Last weekend at Twickenham, our dressing room was bouncing,” the flanker said. “The feeling after this match is completely different. There are a lot of knackered people around.”