Tomas Francis says Wales are relishing the inevitable forward battle that awaits them in their Rugby World Cup opener against Georgia.
Wales know from experience just how tough the Georgians can be up front, surviving a major score during the 2017 autumn Tests.
A much-changed Wales team ultimately prevailed 13-6 in Cardiff, but Georgia’s set-piece excellence shone through as they pushed their opponents all the way.
“Georgia love their set-piece and that will be a good challenge, but we want to take them on and not shy away from that,” Wales prop Francis said, ahead of next Monday’s Pool D encounter in Toyota City.
“You know what’s coming. It will be about the basics.
“Georgia will want to scrum and maul, and if you shy away from that you are giving them a head-start, so we have to take them on and be confident.”
Wales’ scrummaging work came under the spotlight in recent World Cup warm-up games against England and Ireland.
Their scrum struggled to make an impression, although Francis was at the forefront of a much-needed improved display when Wales lost to Ireland in a Dublin return fixture on September 7.
All 20 teams at the World Cup in Japan will operate under a World Rugby scrummaging law amendment that was implemented this summer.
It is aimed at ending so-called “axial loading”, with the practice of front-row forwards placing their heads on to opposition players’ head or shoulders between the call of ‘bind’ and ‘set’ on scrummaging engagement now outlawed.
“With the new scrum laws, maybe we were trying to read too much into it,” Francis added.
“In the Six Nations we were very happy with the scrum, and we’ve probably been focusing on it more now that there have been a few changes and it hasn’t quite gone how we would have liked.
“Interpretations of the law can be different. We probably scaled right back to the letter of the law, but now we’ve learnt what the referees actually want.
“It’s not that they are not refereeing it well, but we’ve just learnt how it works. It always takes time when a law change works, and we are ready for that now.
“It (law amendment) just means there is no weight bearing through your head.
More than 15,000 people watched Wales’ @rugbyworldcup squad train in Kitakyushu today. Golygfeydd syfrdanol wnaeth cyfarch y tîm yn ne Japan.— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) September 16, 2019
Read the story behind this unique reception 🔴 https://t.co/p6UvjdiUiI pic.twitter.com/RVkzzaxm89
“It got to the stage where if you did put weight through your neck, you had to match the weight, and now you need more balance. There is more of a ‘set’ now. There is less pressure through your neck, which is what they’ve done it for.”
Exeter tighthead Francis will be an integral part of Wales’ World Cup challenge, having developed impressively from a Test rookie at the last tournament, which he arrived at with just two international appearances behind him.
He is now moving towards 50 caps, but remains modest about his achievements.
“I’ve been lucky that Gats (Wales head coach Warren Gatland) has kept on picking me,” he said.
“All you can do is your best, and Exeter have gone well, so it’s been easier to keep a good run going there and keep playing.
“I feel good for this tournament, but (fellow Wales prop) Dillon Lewis is playing well, and you never know. If you get complacent, you will lose the shirt.”
Jonny May is convinced that England have the firepower and variety in attack to sweep all before them at the Rugby World Cup.
Eddie Jones’ title contenders have engineered an average of 4.3 tries in each game this year and were the most creative side at the recent Six Nations by crossing 24 times – 10 more than nearest rivals Ireland.
As their deadliest finisher, May is the key weapon in the England arsenal, but the Leicester wing insists there are myriad threats that can be unleashed on the opposition.
Even with the tackle-busting Joe Cokanasiga and Jack Nowell carrying injuries, potentially ruling both out of the opener against Tonga on Sunday, Jones still has the likes of Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly and Manu Tuilagi at his disposal.
When asked if any other team could rival the depth of England’s attacking options, May said: “I would say not. It is nothing like I have ever been a part of.
“I look around the room at the team-mates and the talent we have and for me the belief is genuine that we can beat anybody if we are at our best. I genuinely believe we will peak at this World Cup.
“I don’t want to come across as arrogant because I am not but I generally just can’t talk up my team-mates enough.
“We have got players who can take the ball to the line and make decisions, we have got players who can run over people, we have got speed, we have got left foot options.
“Do other teams have great players? Of course they do. It will come down to who produces it on the day, who is ready for it and mentally who can handle it.
“I believe this team is ready. There are genuine reasons to believe that we can do something very special.”
Jones announces his team on Friday as England’s World Cup launches with two matches in four days, the clash with hard-tackling Tonga in Sapporo followed by a showdown against the USA in Kobe.
“This team is beyond thinking about who is the starting XV. The message from Eddie is that he will pick a team to beat that opposition on that day and everyone has a role,” May said.
“It is not about who is better than who. We are not about that on this team. There is no point.
“We are very different and we are just about being the best versions of ourselves for the team.”
Since exploding into form on last summer’s tour to South Africa, May has been an unstoppable force for England by crossing six times in seven games this year, but he would gladly sacrifice tries for a triumphant World Cup.
“It is a terrible trap to fall into, going into a game wanting to score a try or trying to score a try,” May said.
“Of course, for a winger a try is the cherry on top of the cake. I couldn’t care if I don’t score a try in the tournament.
“I go into a game focusing on my defence, my kick-chase, my high ball. Those are the things I am guaranteed to get in a game.
“If the opportunity comes to score a try, that is my role in that moment for the team. We just need to win every game.”
Eddie Jones believes England have an edge over their World Cup rivals because of the steps taken to ensure they are ready to play in the sweltering heat and humidity of Japan.
Two training camps in Treviso, north-east Italy, in July and August followed by eight nights in Miyazaki have subjected the squad to the boiling conditions which they will encounter over the coming weeks.
Temperatures regularly top 30 degrees while the humidity level climbs above 60 per cent every day, but rather than be intimidated by the oppressive climate Jones sees it as a feature of the first Asian World Cup that can be exploited.
“We’re looking forward to playing in the humidity,” Jones said at England’s official arrival press conference on the island of Kyushu.
“We’ve prepared for it and it’s obviously a big part of rugby in Japan in September and October. We feel like playing in the humidity will give us an advantage.”
As coach of Japan four years ago, Jones took the Brave Blossoms to the same location for an extended training camp that helped produce the nation’s finest performance at a World Cup.
Although they narrowly failed to reach the quarter-finals, they stunned South Africa to stage the greatest upset in rugby history in a victory that had its origins in Miyazaki.
“I think I can still see some of the sweat of the players lying on the ground. It’s still there,” England’s head coach said.
“It’s a great place to train – great facilities, the weather’s fantastic, the food’s good and the people are friendly. It’s nice to come back here.
“The players have a number of opportunities to do different things. They can play golf, they’ve been down the beach. It’s a place where you can prepare to win and that’s why we came here.”
England landed in Tokyo on Monday and although their exit from Narita Airport was delayed by five hours due to the fallout from Typhoon Faxai, they have not encountered any further issues.
“The first part of the World Cup is always dependent on your travel. We had a vigorous travel schedule, but we’ve settled in well now and have got used to the conditions,” Jones said.
“Players have been out and about a bit. We’ve deliberately had quite an easy training week but we’ll increase that starting today (Saturday).
“The players have adjusted really well. We’re very positive and there’s a good feeling in the camp. Everyone is ready to start work now.
“We’ve actually had to pull players back because they wanted to work harder. We’ve had a variety of activities on and off the field.
“The players feel like they’ve adapted to the environment as well as they can and now they’re ready to begin the serious preparation for the World Cup.”
Jones confirmed that Mako Vunipola (hamstring) and Jack Nowell (ankle) will not be available until the key Pool C games against Argentina and France next month.
England open their World Cup title quest against Tonga on Sunday week and their Australian boss hopes they will gather some local fans.
“The Japanese love the All Blacks and that isn’t going to change, but I’m sure we’ll get our fair share of support,” Jones said.
“We’ll get some good support and it will make a difference because Japanese rugby crowds can be quite quiet. If we’ve got a number of people supporting us, it could make a difference.”