Wales thrash Fiji 66-0
THERE is nothing new under the sun, the saying goes, nor indeed under the pouring Waikato rain as Wales showed in confirming their place in the opening World Cup quarter-final against Ireland on what might be dubbed "Six Nations Saturday".
Mindful perhaps of the injuries experienced by Dan Carter, Jonny Wilkinson and others - and certainly protective of their own prospects as they qualified for the last eight for the fourth time in seven attempts - Wales deliberately finished with 14 men by withdrawing key forwards Sam Warburton and Gethin Jenkins with seven minutes remaining.
Jenkins limped off but was said by head coach Warren Gatland to have only a "tight calf", not a strain that would have rung alarms bells with cover at prop thinner for Wales than in other positions. Gatland said that Warburton had "cramp" but the indication was that the bang-in-form flanker and captain had been brought off as a precaution, even though Wales had no one left on the bench to replace him. It was practice for playing with a man in the sin-bin too - and with a 59-0 lead at the time, not risky.
The defence coach, Shaun Edwards, recalled it was a tactic he and Gatland used when they were coaching at Wasps and their side thrashed Northampton in a Premiership semi-final in May 2004. Flanker Joe Worsley and fly-half Alex King were taken off in the last few minutes of the 57-20 win - leaving Wasps with 13 men - to keep the pair fresh for the following fortnight's Heineken Cup and Premiership finals. Wasps won both.
Two wins for Wales in the next fortnight would see them into a World Cup final. They made certain of their runners-up spot in Pool D by half-time with four tries past a soft-tackling Fiji. Ireland will be pitted against Wales in Wellington on Saturday followed by England versus France in Auckland. The respective winners will meet a week later, also at Eden Park.
A couple of forward passes helped Wales in two of their nine tries and if the English referee Wayne Barnes wanted to reassure a still-sceptical Kiwi audience of his sharp eye for such things, this was not the way to do it. Jamie Roberts ran in two and his power, together with that of George North was uncontainable, while the fly-halves Rhys Priestland and Stephen Jones converted all 10 of their place kicks. Shane Williams should be fit to return on the wing against the Irish and there are hopes for James Hook and Dan Lydiate too. Leigh Halfpenny could deputise at full-back if Hook does not make it.
"Everyone's very confident, we've done well in the last few games and we'll take that confidence with us," said Warburton. "Warren [Gatland] has used the word 'ruthless' and that's been drilled into us."
Gatland said: "It could be like South Africa at the last World Cup. If you come out of a tough pool it does set you up well for the quarter-final and hopefully to go a bit further." South Africa, in case you had forgotten, won the little gold pot.