Shaun Edwards, the Wales defence coach, is confident his side can have a successful World Cup thanks to Warren Gatland’s impressive record of “peaking his teams at the right time”.
With the big kick-off just two weeks away, Wales will complete their warm-up matches by playing Italy in Cardiff today before facing a fearsome pool schedule that features appointments with hosts England and Australia.
Under Gatland Wales have won three Six Nations titles and two Grand Slams, in addition to reaching the 2011 World Cup semi-finals, which was their best performance on a global stage since 1987.
Gatland also masterminded domestic and European triumphs for Wasps, and Wales defence specialist Edwards said: “Warren has had a great record over the years of peaking his teams at the right time and that’s not being boastful, just a fact.
“That has happened over his career and we are hoping he is going to do the same this time.
“We do want momentum going into the World Cup. We are keeping fingers crossed with injuries – it would be a travesty to get someone injured so late – but you need match practice, otherwise you are going to be undercooked going into what is a massive occasion, the World Cup.
“You have to be peaking in September or October,” he added. “With a club team you can get off to a slow start but you can recover as the season goes on, but in this competition you can’t.”
Edwards, meanwhile, straight-batted comments from England 2003 World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward after Gatland named only two hookers in his 31-man squad announced earlier this week in Scott Baldwin and Ken Owens.
Woodward, writing in the Daily Mail, questioned the decision on safety grounds and said that England and their head coach Stuart Lancaster should be “kicking up merry hell,” citing in his view a potential for uncontested scrums due to insufficient front-row cover.
Edwards, speaking at the Millennium Stadium yesterday, said: “We can understand his opinion but Warren is confident that we can travel with two hookers and the Australian coaching staff must feel the same.
“Is it a gamble? Only time will tell. But you can replace players and the big advantage is that the World Cup is in the British Isles.
“And while there is a 72-hour replacement schedule in place if someone gets injured, it’s not like flying them from the other side of the world. That definitely goes in our favour.”
Wing George North will make his first Millennium Stadium appearance for almost six months today after a long comeback from injury.
North played all of last weekend’s impressive World Cup warm-up victory against Ireland in Dublin and it marked the 23-year-old Northampton wing’s return to competitive action after he suffered three concussions last season. He is now looking for a stylish World Cup send-off against Italy before Wales face opening Pool A opponents Uruguay later this month.
“You have got to focus on making sure you are fit and well,” said North. “I knew I would come back, it was just a matter of getting it right.
“I was just delighted to be back playing,” he added. “I saw the right people and they made the decision I wouldn’t play again until last Saturday. And it has worked well.”
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