Former Wales captain Sam Warburton believes his country’s 14-game winning streak will give them huge confidence heading into the Rugby World Cup.
The tournament in Japan is under four months away from kick-off and the excitement is building in the host nation and also for those competing.
Wales are the form team coming into the showpiece after an excellent run under head coach Warren Gatland and Warburton feels that could be key.
“It does help massively,” said the Land Rover ambassador, who recently announced his retirement from the professional game. “I have gone into World Cups where we have had a poor Six Nations campaigns and vice versa but it’s so much easier when you have wins under your belt.
“There are still four warm-up games to go – double-headers against England and Ireland at home and away – so there is going to be at least two or three of those games where both unions will put out their strongest teams and if you can come out on top in that then that will be huge moving forward, but you can completely lose the momentum you’ve got with say three losses out of four. It completely turns it on its head so hopefully Wales can get a good few wins in that warm-up period and that will put them in good shape going into the group stages.”
Those pool stages see Wales face Australia, Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay, with the match against the Wallabies scheduled as their second game. While Fiji cannot be written off as a force in the pool, Warburton is confident regarding the Australia game after Wales’ recent good form.
“Wales have done a lot of things right in the past 10 years when they’ve played Australia and they’ve obviously beaten them recently in the November series in 2018, which is great from a psychological point of view because you don’t want to be doing press conferences as a player and being asked questions why you haven’t won since 2008 so that monkey has gone, that’s off the back,” continued the former Wales flanker.
“Both teams have been so close in recent years but I think Wales are genuinely the better team at this moment in time.”
Big game experience has proven invaluable for Wales of late and their recent Grand Slam in the Six Nations was led by the likes of captain Alun Wyn Jones and centre Jonathan Davies. Warburton feels that duo, along with wing George North, will be crucial to their hopes in Japan.
“I think those guys, off the top of my head, have got seven World Cups’ experience between them and you need those players for the younger guys so they know what to expect going into a World Cup,” he said.
“You are away from home for potentially six or seven weeks, so you are way out of your comfort zone, particularly in Japan, it’s going to be completely different to anywhere else they would have played before, so those senior players will be really important to drive standards that the players require to get to the latter stages of the World Cup.”
Despite their outstanding recent form under Gatland, Wales remain behind New Zealand, England and Ireland with the bookmakers to lift the Webb Ellis trophy in Yokohama City on November 2. Looking outside the so-called big teams for a potential surprise package, Warburton was quick to single out the host nation who he feels will make the most of home field advantage and subsequently build on their success of 2015.
“The last four years I’m sure they would have improved and the motivation for them is going to be enormous in this World Cup. I would not fancy playing Japan; there will be much more preferable Tier 2 nations to play against than Japan being at their home World Cup,” he said.
“There normally is a surprise, I don’t think we will see too many surprises from the Pacific Island nations but I think Japan could cause some real trouble again this World Cup.”
Indeed Warburton believes the scope for shocks is growing and following Japan’s heroics against South Africa in Brighton in 2015, the platform is there for more teams to follow.
“To grow the game now you are looking at countries like Japan and USA – they could be super powers of the game from a performance point of view in years to come and also from a financial point of view. The fans and the player base they have is enormous as well,” added Warburton.
“That’s two countries in particular which I think we’re doing a good job of tapping into. You want there to be 15 competitive teams. Right now, you’ve probably got eight or nine really competitive teams. If in two World Cup’s time you can develop that into 12 to 15 really strong, competitive teams, that would be great for the game of rugby.”
Sam Warburton is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover understands and shares the values of rugby. Follow @LandRoverRugby