Wales hope to kick-start golden age

Almost a quarter of a century ago, Wales beat Australia to finish third in a World Cup – the first World Cup, as a matter of fact, much of it staged in this neck of the union woods – and returned home with a strong sense that players like David Young, Richard Webster, Robert Jones and Jonathan Davies would quickly establish the team as the premier force in European rugby. All too soon, they received two 50-point spankings from New Zealand, were beaten at home by Romania, lost the brilliant Davies to the "other" code of the game and found themselves looking on miserably as England enjoyed a brief but meaningful golden age.

Today, Warren Gatland's team face the Wallabies at the self-same juncture of the seventh global gathering, with the self-same prize at stake. Are they riding for a fall this time? Probably not. Of course, they have yet to secure a podium finish, and any Australian side able to bring together Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor, Digby Ioane, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Quade Cooper and Will Genia in the same back division will take some beating. But the current team is young and gifted, the head coach has four years' service left on his contract and the good times are ready to roll. Victory at Eden Park today will surely set things in motion.

One man who rates them highly is David Pocock, the Australian flanker whose strength and dynamism at the tackle area make him a major threat to Wales' bronze-medal ambitions. "They have a back row with a very high work rate – in general, they're a team who get around the field and really attack the rucks – and they have some real threats in their back line," he said yesterday. "Their centres are probably the hardest-running pairing in the tournament and they get on the front foot a lot of the time. Off the back of that, they have a lot of pace out wide."

Quite whether the loose-forward side of the equation works effectively without the suspended captain Sam Warburton is open to debate: Toby Faletau, a revelation at No 8 in this tournament, must play the breakaway role today and it is surely asking too much of him to make the same sort of impact in an unfamiliar position. But there is a likelihood that the Welsh front row will boss the second-string Wallaby scrummagers at the set-piece, and if this comes to pass it is possible to imagine Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies, the midfielders praised by Pocock, laying the foundations for victory.

Wales deserve nothing less. Two one-point defeats, by the Springboks and by the French in the semi-final, do not begin to tell the story of their time here, for had natural justice been at work on either occasion, the outcome would have been different. As James Horwill, whose deeply committed performances have justified his promotion to the Wallaby captaincy, was happy to acknowledge, the rugby produced by Gatland's players has been "some of the best we've seen in the tournament".

They will have to be on their level today: after that play-off win in 1987, it took Wales 18 years to beat the Wallabies again. Indeed, they have won only two of the last 17 contests between the two. But this Wales team, well conditioned after a summer of intensive physical preparation and brazen enough to attack from all areas of the field, has a more threatening look to it than any of its predecessors over the last couple of decades – even the side that won the Six Nations Grand Slam immediately on Gatland's arrival in 2008.

As James Hook, who has a point or two to prove today after his rough performance at outside-half on semi-final night, said this week: "It's important to keep our confidence high by expressing ourselves in this game the way we have throughout. If we could claim a Tri-Nations scalp in the southern hemisphere, it would give us a massive boost going into the Six Nations. At the start of the competition, we would have taken a semi-final place. Now, we want more. We want to go home with something, even if it's a bronze medal."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot