Mon, Oct 10, 2011 - Page 19 News List

Wales’ ‘dream journey’ continues


Wales reported an almost entirely clean bill of health as they arrived in Auckland yesterday to prepare for the next stage of their fairytale ride at the Rugby World Cup.

Seven months after finishing the Six Nations with a 28-9 drubbing at the hands of France, the Welsh squad wandered around the center of New Zealand’s biggest city in bright sunshine being feted by locals and visitors alike in the wake of Saturday’s victory over Ireland.

The French team who stand in their path to a first World Cup final are in the same Auckland hotel, for one night at least, and assistant coach Rob Howley warned there was plenty of work ahead this week.

“The players realize that we’re on a huge journey and a dream,” he told reporters. “That journey and dream is based on hard work, with some talent thrown in, and the players are very much looking forward to the opportunity.”

“It’s a pretty special to be in Auckland,” he added. “I’ve never been to Eden Park, it’s a very special place in rugby terms.”

“Who’d have thought five months ago that this Welsh team would be in Auckland? We’re savoring last night before preparing for the challenge of Saturday,” he said.

Flyhalf Rhys Priestland arrived at the hotel with a sling on his right arm after taking a knock to his shoulder in the 22-10 victory over Ireland in Wellington.

The only other injury concern is lock Luke Charteris, who also injured his shoulder, but Howley was quietly confident they would both be fit for Saturday’s semi-final.

“It’s only 20 hours since the game and hopefully they’ll get -better as the week goes on,” he said.

Backs coach Howley was particularly impressed with how the Welsh had dominated the Irish physically in Wellington and conceded that it was the forwards battle that would probably decide Saturday’s match.

However, Howley said the performance of the young backs has been one of the highlights of the tournament so far and he hoped they would be able to maintain their momentum.

“There’s no fear in the youngsters and you’ve got experienced heads like Shane Williams, Mike Phillips and James Hook ... who, with the youngsters alongside them, have moved their game to another level as well,” he said. “It’s great from a backs’ perspective; we’ve got the balance of skill and speed and we can ask the questions of the opposition that we need to. So hopefully we can keep it going for another two weeks.”

After a disappointing pool phase, France finally hit their stride in their quarter-final victory over England and Howley said they would present a major hurdle to the Welsh in the principality’s second World Cup semi-final after 1987.

“The Welsh players have achieved by getting to the semi-final of a World Cup and we don’t think we’re finished yet, we haven’t won anything, keeping our feet on the ground,” Howley said. “Actions speak louder than words and the actions you saw last night were pretty good ones. We have to replicate those to come any where near France on the weekend.”

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