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World Cup warm-up: Wales

World Cup warm-up: Wales

Wales head to this summer’s Rugby World Cup in fine fettle, reigning Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam champions and riding the crest of a wave.

Warren Gatland’s men are currently on a record-breaking winning run, their Guinness Six Nations Grand-Slam crowning triumph over Ireland their 14th on the bounce.

And with a squad replete with the perfect balance of pace and power, youth and experience, leaders and winners, a tilt at history seems very much on the cards.

With warm-ups for the competition now less than a month away, here’s a closer look at Wales’ preparations for Japan.

Warm-up matches

Currently posted up in the Swiss Alps for a stint of altitude training, the Welsh side will spend a fortnight in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Fiesch, with a trip to Turkey next up, before returning for a quartet of World Cup warm-ups.

Gatland and co. have opted to keep things familiar with regards to opponents, with back-to-back double-headers against England and Ireland respectively.

A trip to Twickenham kicks things off on August 11, before England cross the border and head to the Principality for the first time since Wales’ seismic 21-13 Guinness Six Nations win back in February.

Next up are Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, who likewise came and were conquered in Cardiff, Wales running out impressive 25-7 victors as they sealed Rugby’s Greatest Championship in March.

The matches conclude on September 7, just 22 days before their Japan opener, with a return fixture to the Aviva Stadium, where Wales last won back in August 2015 ahead of that year’s World Cup.

Warm-ups in full

August 11: England v Wales (Twickenham)

August 17: Wales v England (Principality Stadium)

August 31: Wales v Ireland (Principality Stadium)

September 7: Ireland v Wales (Aviva Stadium)

Squad

There is nothing like having a settled, happy squad, and Warren Gatland is a man who has currently got just that at his fingertips.

With 41 making the trip to Switzerland, the three-time Grand Slam winning coach has nine to cut for his final World Cup group.

Plenty of established names are all-but locked in, with inspirational skipper Alun Wyn Jones – fresh from signing a new two-year contract to remain with the Welsh Rugby Union – chief among them.

He will be joined in the pack by Ken Owens, Gatland’s go-to hooker who will be desperate to start his first Rugby World Cup match in Japan after injuries in 2011 and 2015 limited him to substitute appearances only, while the likes of Josh Navidi, Ross Moriarty and Justin Tipuric have all played crucial roles in Wales’ current run.

In the backs, it is a similar tale, with George North and Liam Williams both in fine fettle in the back-three, Gareth Anscombe and Dan Biggar looking nailed on at fly-half, and Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies seeming the most likely in the centres.

There remain, however, several spots up for grabs, with a selection of talents looking to make a late surge into the reckoning.

Owen Lane is much-fancied in the back-three, while exciting centre Owen Watkin will have his eyes on a place, along with the returning Taulupe Faletau, who gave Wales a significant boost when he was seen training with the squad as he continues rehabilitation from a broken arm sustained in October.

Rugby World Cup Pool

When all is said and done, and Wales arrive in Japan, it is a tough Pool D that will greet them.

Australia, Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay will all battle Gatland’s men for a place in the knockouts, but the Guinness Six Nations holders will themselves arrive with a fearsome reputation.

Buoyed by a confidence-boosting win over the two-time World Cup champions Australia at the Principality Stadium in the Autumn Internationals, any notion of a mental hurdle should already have been overcome.

They last faced Fiji in the Pools of the 2015 World Cup, where they ran out 23-13 victors at the Principality, all-but sending them through to the quarter-finals in the process.

As for Georgia and Uruguay, they represent somewhat unknown quantities for Wales, A testy 13-6 win over the former on home soil in 2017 the only match they have played against either.

Along with Australia, then, Wales will no doubt be favourite to progress from the Pool, but will have to be mindful, in particular, of the threat posed by a dangerous Fiji side.

Fans can get tickets for the home warm-ups here, the trip to Twickenham here, and the match at the Aviva here