It’s Been A Long, Hard Road To France . . . But Now Wales Are Ready To Do Something Very Memorable At This World Cup

It’s World Cup time and I’m convinced Wales can do something pretty special.

05.11.22 – Wales v New Zealand – Autumn International Series – Gareth Anscombe of Wales

The warm-up matches are over, the squads have been trimmed, and now it’s all about what happens in France over the next few weeks.

Believe me, this Wales squad is capable of a campaign to remember. As far as the bookies and the pundits are concerned, we are flying in under the radar and that suits us just fine.

There have been challenges and holes in the road on this journey, for sure, but that’s always the way. In particular, there are always injuries suffered in training, and in the preparation matches, and I’ve suffered one myself.

I injured my right thumb near the end of the training camp in Turkey.

I was soon able to run and keep up my conditioning work, but I just wasn’t able to catch and pass a rugby ball.

That was obviously hugely frustrating, but you can’t stop training for tournaments because of the risk of injuries. You also need games in order to get match-hardened and generate self-belief as a team, so injuries are part and parcel of being a rugby player.

It’s tough to take, though, when you’ve come back from much bigger, more serious injuries and then a silly little thing like a thumb gets in your way.

I have to admit that back in November I wasn’t too convinced we were on schedule to pull up any trees at this tournament.

The coaches were being changed, the regions were all in a total mess, and there were players literally not knowing if they were going to be playing the next weekend because of the contractual situation.

That was bound to take its toll and it clearly had an effect on players in this squad.

We then had new coaches – with Warren Gatland returning for the Six Nations – and although it was a difficult tournament, I always felt the team would improve the longer we spent together.

We have seen that so many times before under Warren.

Part of the issue is that players coming in from regional rugby to the national squad are not quite at the level they need to be. It’s something that needs to be addressed.

When guys come in, they need to be hitting the ground, running. Instead, it takes them a week or two to get back up to the standards of Test rugby.

I think from the last few weeks, though, you can see a group that’s starting to understand a little bit more about what we’re trying to do and accomplish.

There’s still tons that we can work on and improve, but the group is starting to get a real understanding of what the coaches want and now we are just trying to add little adjustments to our game.

Clearly, the win over England just added a nice feeling that we were on the right path and a fair way down it.

It reinforced my own view that if we can keep clear of too many injuries, then on any given day, this Wales team are capable of beating any side in the world.

Are we as strong as the Wales squad of four years ago that reached the semi-final in Japan? Probably not.

But this squad has massive potential, with a whole load of young players who can grow in confidence and really assert themselves over the next few weeks.

I’ve seen a bit of Mason Grady and he’s an incredible athlete. Max Llewellyn is the same and although I didn’t know much about Joe Roberts before this camp, I’ve been really impressed.

I’ve said it before, to miss the 2019 tournament with an injury just beforehand was gut-wrenching. In 2015, I came in late after breaking my ankle and it didn’t feel as if I was quite part of things.

So, it’s a seriously intense experience and it’s probably just as well that it’s only every four years because it’s so demanding in every way, physically and mentally.

In Wales, the whole country gets behind us and if we get away to a good start, build that momentum of support behind us, who knows what can happen?

As a player, it’s important that you don’t get caught up too much in the highs and you don’t get too down with the lows. It takes consistency to be successful and you have stay grounded.

We have a very difficult opening game against an improving Fiji and the focus has to be on winning that very tough game, before we move on.

I think there are multiple teams who can win this World Cup – France, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, England, Australia and ourselves. Argentina and Scotland too.

That’s never really been the case before. It’s never been this wide open.

All of those teams are capable of beating the others in a one-off, so I think from a fans’ point of view this could be just an incredible World Cup.

I have to say, the All Blacks have really impressed me in recent weeks. They have changed their game, adapted to alterations in the way the game has gone and they look strong again. Plus, they always have players with the X-factor.

We have some of those ourselves, so there is nothing for Wales to feel scared of.

These young players, like Louis Rees-Zammit, are so confident, too.

That reflects the way the game has changed, and maybe society. When I was a young kid coming into the Wales team, you weren’t really encouraged to speak up.

It was more about listening. These young kids now are so comfortable in their own skin that they’re not afraid to speak up from the start and contribute.

Gats is an old school coach, but he knows how to get the best out of players, older and younger. He can challenge you, even when he doesn’t do it directly and that’s a great skill.

The boys have been challenged, pushed, driven and they have responded.

Wales are ready for this World Cup – ready to reward the fans for their amazing support, ready to make their families proud after all the sacrifices, and ready to be successful at the biggest rugby tournament of them all.

08.07.23 – Wales Rugby World Cup Training camp in Fiesch, Switzerland – Gareth Anscombe during training

Allez, les rouges.