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Rugby World Cup: Wales to end Gatland era in style

Wales coach Warren Gatland
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The Rugby Podcast's Jonathan Beardmore expects great things of Wales as they head into the World Cup under their legendary coach Warren Gatland for the final time...

"Wales's strength lies in their precision, discipline and togetherness. No team in the competition will be better prepared, better drilled and ready to take on the World Cup than Wales."

Wales are heading into a World Cup in the very unusual position as one of the favourites. If the result against Ireland had gone differently they would be going to Japan as the number one ranked team in the world, a burden that does not sit well with a nation addicted to misery.

The days of Gareth Jenkins, their disastrous World Cup in France and an acrimonious group stage exit are now only a distant memory.

'Best in the world' Gatland has transformed Wales

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Warren Gatland has taken Wales out of the group stages twice and was only a red card and three points away from securing Wales's first World Cup final appearance in 2011. Gatland may well have claim to be the world's best coach. Despite the limited resources of the Principality of Wales he has constantly made Wales a formidable outfit.

Alongside his sterling international record of three Grand Slams, he also boasts every domestic trophy available. From Aviva Premiership's to European Cups and Super Rugby titles. The only thing missing from Gatland's sizeable trophy cabinet now is a World Cup.

Team ethic is Wales' greatest strength

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Wales are a talented team however the real strength of the Welsh squad is not individual talents. Sure, they have some world-class players but in terms of absolute talent across the squad they fall someway short of teams like New Zealand, South Africa and, dare I say it, England.

Instead Wales's strength lies in their precision, discipline and togetherness. No team in the competition will be better prepared, better drilled and ready to take on the World Cup than Wales. However, it's the details that set Wales apart.

Against a highly fancied England in the six Nations, Wales put together one of the most accomplished tactical displays in a generation. Neutralising the huge English advantage was no easy task but alongside his excellent bevy of coaches, Gatland and Wales were more than up to the job.

This makes Wales hard to predict. We know that they're going to have a good game, we know they are going to be well coached, however, we do not know what small improvements Gatland will make game to game. You only really find out what Wales are up to as an opposition team after it's too late.

Wales will be at full strength for opener

Wales' first competitive action will be against Georgia, a team renowned for its physical prowess and scrimmaging. I somehow doubt that this will a problem for Gatland's men as Wales will come up with a counter long before the Georgians take the field.

Some observers might claim that the scrum is a weak area for Wales. The reality of the situation is this issue will have been addressed and Wales are no pushovers when it comes to set.

Gatland has cited durability being a factor in selection and the reason why he left Sampson Lee and Rob Evens at home in place of rookie Rhys Carre. This nod to durability implies that Gatland intends to use the same combination of props as often as possible with little rotation, so expect the Welsh team against Georgia to be at full strength.

There might be a temptation in these early games to keep your key players away from the heat of the action. Particularly as Australia lie in wait a few days after. The victors of that game will almost certainly win the pool.

It's more likely however that Wales will use this to battle harden their best 15, ready for the inevitable clash with the Wallabies.

Talented backs can steer Wales to top of pool

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In the backline there are already some changes with Dan Biggar taking over from the injured Gareth Anscome who was so unfortunate to pick up a knee injury during the World Cup warm-ups.

In Biggar, Wales might have the most underrated international rugby player of modern times. Biggar does the things that require no skill with such extraordinary competence he makes them look skilful.

On top of that he is the best kicker in international rugby and his bravery is like no other fly half. Simply put, Biggar lacks in creative spark he makes up for by inspiring those around him and filling them with belief.

His halfback partner Gareth Davies will also be instrumental. The Georgians will not have a second to rest as Davies will test every gap around the breakdown.

Combining the spark of Davies alongside the excellent Biggar should see Wales play in the right areas of the field and I expect them to guide the team to a comfortable victory.

Lastly will be Wales' outside backs. Gatland has stuck with George North through thick and thin and if North shows even a flicker of his former self we can expect the big man to have an even bigger tournament. On the other wing I would expect Worcester's livewire Josh Adams to sparkle. Not since Shane Williams has a Welsh player exhibited such wonderful running balance and stepping ability.

Gatland's tactical nous expertly executed by his halfback combination will not only see Wales beat Georgia by 40+ points but will also see Wales top the group and reach the knockout stages of the World Cup.

This is Gatland's swansong with Wales and I'd be amazed if it does not end with something rather special.

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Get more Rugby World Cup 2019 tips insight from the panel on Rugby...Only Bettor, Betfair's tournament podcast. Episode one is here

Jonathan Beardmore,

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