Embattled Wales set up for bruising World Cup opener vs Georgia

Storm warning: Warren Gatland’s embattled Wales set up for bruising World Cup opener against Georgia

  • Typhoon Tapah could impact the Wales game but looks like it is dying down 
  • It is not likely to whip the Welsh into as much of a frenzy as the Rob Howley saga  
  • Traditionally, Warren Gatland’s side have reacted well to off-pitch adversity 

Shaun Edwards was talking about a potential typhoon ripping through Toyota on Monday – but he could have discussing the week that was for Wales.

‘If a storm comes, there is nothing we can do about that,’ the defence coach said on the eve of the Georgia match.

Thankfully Typhoon Tapah is dying down and not likely to whip Wales into as much as a frenzy as the Rob Howley saga they have tried to move on from.

Warren Gatland (right) and Alun Wyn Jones (left) are used to leading Wales through a storm

The attack coach has been sent home, for an alleged breach of betting regulations, and replaced by Stephen Jones – who only arrived three days’ out from the Georgia match.

That switch has left a black cloud over Wales’ preparations for this World Cup opener.

There is a roof on the Toyota City Stadium, which folds back and looks like an armadillo’s back, but it will not close to protect Wales from the elements – as crippling maintenance costs have meant it has not been shut for four years.

Never mind, historically Wales are good in a storm; whether metaphorical or meteorological.

Look at the Scotland week in the Six Nations, where two regions almost merged days out from the Test, or the Ireland game, where Wales sealed the Grand Slam winning 25-7 in a downpour.

‘We’re confident about the way we can play in the wet, we are a good wet-weather team,’ noted Edwards.

‘If it is wet and slippery, which it could be, then we have to adapt out tactics and tighten things up.’ Boxed into the corner by the week’s events, Wales are likely to slug their way out against Georgia.

But Edwards – a keen fan of the fight game – is wary Los Lelos possess a mighty hook that could unexpectedly fell them.

‘You can’t look too far ahead. Heavyweight boxing has proved that over the last few months,’ he said before being asked if Wales could fall into the trap Anthony Joshua did against unfancied underdog Andy Ruiz Jnr in June.

‘Tyson Fury the other night too,’ Edwards noted.

‘He had a bad cut and could have lost that fight!

‘There’s no complacency in our team. Rugby is very emotive and you have to encourage that emotion, but we have to control that and use it in the right way.

‘We’ve been preparing for this for a very long time – two years in the making – and we’re fully focused against a formidable opponent, and one that we have a lot of respect for.

Shaun Edwards (left) says Wales are totally prepared for the muscular Georgian approach

‘They’re big men, they’re going to be physical, but so are we. We’re not coming here to make the numbers up.’ Wales will do far more than that here. They should – and will likely – beat Georgia convincingly to kick off their tournament.

This team is far too worldly-wise to slip on banana skins. Warren Gatland, the head coach, has assembled the oldest starting XV Wales have ever fielded in a World Cup match – with an average age of 28 years 331 days.

Edwards sees comparisons with the last, and only, northern-hemisphere side to lift the Webb Ellis Cup, whose average was almost identical – 28 years 254 days on the day of the Sydney final.

‘You look back at 2003, England had an experienced team,’ Edwards said.

‘A few guys over 30. I don’t think that does you any harm.’ One of the five in that category today – which includes hooker Ken Owens (32), captain Alun Wyn Jones (34), flanker Justin Tipuric (30) and Jonathan Davies (31) – is Hadleigh Parkes.

The New Zealand-born centre has formed a tight bond with midfield partner Davies. The pair have played together 11th times in the last two years.

Hadleigh Parkes (pictured) spoke about his relationship with centre partner Jonathan Davies

No centre pairing in international rugby has started more often in that period and Parkes talked up their partnership.

‘He’s a world-class player,’ he said of Davies. Defensively, he’s outstanding, and on attack he is a big boy as well.

‘We get on pretty well off the field – we’ve roomed together for most of the time over here. We have coffees and go for dinner.

‘If you get on well off the field, it makes it a lot easier to have each other’s back on the field as well.

‘I know that he’s always got my back.’ Wales will hope these bonds will help them weather the storm.’

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