Wales coach Warren Gatland plays down move to number one ranking

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Warren Gatland says Wales will not get carried away after replacing New Zealand as World Rugby’s top-ranked nation.

Wales’ 13-6 World Cup warm-up victory over England in Cardiff saw them end the All Blacks’ 10-year unbroken rankings reign.

And their debut rise to the summit comes just 34 days before the World Cup kicks off in Japan.

But Wales head coach Gatland said: “It’s just a number, isn’t it.

“It is a nice accolade to have, but it is all about the next few months and backing that up by performing well in the World Cup, and we’ve a couple of games against Ireland to go as well.

“It’s nice for a day, but we won’t be shouting from the rooftops about it. We have got to keep things in perspective.

“Lots of journalists will be out there saying ‘this is a joke’ – probably Kiwi journalists more than anything! It’s just a number.

“We are not making a big fuss of it. We will keep it in our pocket and go from week to week.”

Fly-half Dan Biggar starred with an accomplished all-round display, converting wing George North’s 38th Wales try and kicking a penalty.

The performance answered recent criticism from former international JJ Williams, who claimed Wales would not win a World Cup with Biggar at 10.

“He (Biggar) was really good today,” Gatland added.

“I don’t know about that former Welsh player. Was he really old? Played in the 70s probably? Did he play over 50-odd years ago? Probably. That does explain a few things.”

England were slicker and more cohesive after the break, but Wales restricted them to a couple of George Ford penalties before a late Leigh Halfpenny penalty sealed victory.

Gatland said: “The players drove a lot this week, and you could tell they were on Test-match edge today.

“We showed some fantastic character and big cojones out there. That’s what these boys are about, they wear this jersey with pride.”

Gatland confirmed flanker James Davies suffered a head knock that forced him off midway through the first half, while Jake Ball and Aaron Wainwright had dead legs. Biggar had a stinger to his shoulder and a tight groin, and Gareth Davies a knock to his hip.

Full-back Liam Williams, meanwhile, experienced hamstring tightness during the warm-up and was withdrawn and replaced by Halfpenny.

“There is nothing serious as far as I am concerned at this stage, and all players will be medically assessed in the morning to see where we are at before we fly out (to a training camp in Turkey),” Gatland added.

Provided by Press Association Sport 

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All Blacks crush the Wallabies to retain Bledisloe Cup

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New Zealand bounced back from their record Test defeat to thrash Australia 36-0 in Auckland.

Australia had beaten New Zealand 47-26 in Perth seven days earlier, the heaviest defeat in the All Blacks’ 583-Test history.

But it was a different story at Eden Park as outside-half Richie Mo’unga scored 14 points and New Zealand retained the Bledisloe Cup.

Mo’unga was among the All Blacks’ five try-scorers but, with the World Cup opener against South Africa just five weeks away, provided cause for concern when he suffered a heavy tackle from Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and left the action nursing his right shoulder.

Mo’unga had opened the scoring with a fourth-minute penalty before opposite number Christian Lealiifano missed two kicks, the first one striking an upright.

Lealiifano’s profligacy was to prove costly when Reece Hodge spilt a Kurtley Beale pass after 29 minutes and Mo’unga produced a smart pick up to burst over from 60 metres.

New Zealand went further ahead three minutes later as Beauden Barrett instigated a devastating counter-attack.

George Bridge was on hand to break between two defenders and freed Aaron Smith for his 17th Test try, with Mo’unga adding the extras again.

The All Blacks were reduced to 14 men when Dane Coles grabbed scrum-half Nic White around the neck and threw him to the ground judo-style.

But New Zealand still dominated – their seven-man scrum overpowered Australia’s eight-strong pack – and Sonny Bill Williams barrelled over six minutes after the restart.

Sevu Reece extended the lead with his first Test try, winning the race to his own kick for Barrett to convert before fellow winger Bridge wrapped up an emphatic win in the closing stages.

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Rugby World Cup 2019 Profile: South Africa - Rassie Erasmus has put the Spring back into the Boks

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With the Rugby World Cup just five weeks away, we take a closer look at each of the competing nations. After profiling 14 teams, we continue our series with South Africa.

In the 18 months since Rassie Erasmus took over as head coach, the Springboks have transformed from a laughing stock to genuine World Cup contenders.

Their swift turnaround has shaken the rugby world by storm and adds another exciting subplot to the sport’s global showpiece which gets under way in just five weeks time.

Winning the Rugby Championship last weekend – South Africa’s first trophy since the 2009 Tri-Nations – is confidence-boosting and a small prize for the path that Erasmus went on when he took the job last March.

Victories over Australia and Argentina, and a thrilling 16-16 draw against the All Blacks in recent weeks has the Springboks hitting form at the right time. And there is still plenty more to come.

Their ruthless thumping of the Pumas (46-13) last weekend in Salta to clinch the Rugby Championship followed New Zealand’s shock 47-26 defeat to Australia.

With the All Blacks stuttering‚ and England and Ireland off form in the Six Nations‚ South Africa has emerged as a surprise contender in what looks to be one of the most open tournaments in history.

The resurgent Boks will be out to show greater consistency when they begin their campaign against the All Blacks on September 21, a game that is likely to be the pool decider. After they face the world champions in Yokohama, Erasmus’s men will take on minnows Namibia, Italy and Canada.

The winner of the pool is likely to play Scotland, while the runner-up will take on Ireland for a place in the semi-finals.

Returning to the traditional Springbok style of play, the powerful South Africa forwards carry the ball with ferocity and a strong set-piece sets the platform to unleash their elusive backs at every opportunity.

Players like Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Franco Mostert, Duane Vermeulen and Malcolm Marx are all imperious with ball in hand and can make a critical difference against big opposition.

Behind the scrum, Faf du Kerk and Handre Pollard orchestrate proceedings from half back, with the searing pace of Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe to exploit out wide.

The team is far from the finished product, though, and a key theme throughout 2018 was the number of unforced errors that turned potentially winnable matches into defeats.

Among the seven defeats from 14 matches, four were by a margin of five points or less and all were games the team lost from winning positions.

But some extra weeks in camp has definitely ironed out errors and mental frailties, and they look more composed, intelligent and sharp in attack. Each player knows their job and respects the jersey.

On the defensive side, they tackle with conviction and don’t tire out towards the end of games like they did at times in 2018.

It feels like the embarrassing days of losing to Italy (20-18) or being thrashed 57-0 by the All Blacks were light years ago‚ and not a mere two years ago. That is testament to Erasmus and his coaching staff’s excellence in transforming the national side around.

The World Cup may be a step too far after only 18 months at the helm‚ but the giant leaps Erasmus and the Boks have taken have been stunning.

He has managed to build depth in most positions, capture the imagination of South African rugby public again, clinch their first piece of silverware in a decade and create an exciting and diverse gameplan.

Still, for any fan or player, it’s important to dream big, and the optimism around the team proves there is real belief they can be competing at the sharp end of the Rugby World Cup.

Nickname(s): Springboks

Union: South African Rugby Union

Head coach: Rassie Erasmus

Captain: Siya Kolisi

Most caps: Victor Matfield (127)

Top scorer: Percy Montgomery (893)

Top try scorer: Bryan Habana (67)

Star man: Handre Pollard. The Bulls star kicked 31 points to inspire the Boks to victory over Argentina last weekend. At 25, he is emerging as a real leader and has the ability to keep opponents constantly guessing with ball in hand as well as his accuracy from the boot.

Best finish: Winners (1995, 2007)

Fixtures: New Zealand (September 21), Namibia (September 28), Italy (October 4), Canada (October 8)

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