Warren Gatland believes that Wales’ agonising 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-final defeat against France probably still hurts those players who were involved.
Wales face Les Bleus in a last-eight clash next Sunday, inevitably evoking memories of events at Eden Park in Auckland eight years ago.
Captain Sam Warburton was sent off by referee Alain Rolland for a tackle on France wing Vincent Clerc just 17 minutes into the contest.
But even with 14 men for more than hour, Wales dominated much of the action before being edged out 9-8.
Six of the 2011 squad – Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Ken Owens, Bradley Davies and Alun Wyn Jones – are in Gatland’s current group, plus assistant coach Stephen Jones and fitness expert Huw Bennett, who both featured in that game.
“The 2011 game probably hurts still for the players involved,” Wales head coach Gatland said.
“Getting a red card after 17 minutes against a world-class team, you expect to lose by 20 or 30 points. But we hung in until the end and had the chance to win it.
“To lose that game 9-8 was pretty disappointing, but it showed what this team is all about. They never give up, they never throw the towel in.
“That is the great character we’ve developed over a number of years with all we have achieved.”
Asked if it was a case of unfinished World Cup business with France, Gatland added: “Not really. To be involved in 2011 was pretty special, but it was disappointing not to get to the final.
“In 2015 we were leading South Africa in the quarter-final but conceded a try in the last five minutes.
“We lost about five players (injured) in that game, so I don’t know what sort of team we could have put out in the semi-final against New Zealand.
“That whole 2015 experience has reflected in our planning and preparation, creating depth in the squad and some competition. We felt like we’ve done that.
“Going into the (2019) quarter-final knowing you’ve got 31 players fit and training puts us in a pretty healthy position.
“It’s not about unfinished business, it’s about taking our opportunities.
“From a coaching and playing perspective, these opportunities can change people’s lives. I know the players will give it everything.”
Wales have beaten France seven times from eight attempts since that semi-final loss, including an unlikely Six Nations victory last season when Les Bleus led 16-0 at half-time.
The Wales squad arrived at their quarter-final base north of Beppu on Monday.
Gatland hopes to have a fully-fit squad available, including centre Davies, fly-half Dan Biggar and wing North, who are all on the recovery trail after suffering knocks.
France scrum-half Baptiste Serin said: “Everyone thinks about it (last season’s Six Nations loss). When you have a first half like that and end up losing, it leaves its mark.
“We will make use of the experience, look at what went well and work on what didn’t. But we are not going to focus on that match.
“There is a big gap between the Six Nations and the quarter-final of the World Cup. We are going to work on what the Welsh did in their recent games.”
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Japan captain Michael Leitch sounded a warning to the ‘Big 8’ countries in world rugby after the Brave Blossoms beat Scotland 28-21 to become the first Asian team to progress to the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup.
Japan finished their pool unbeaten after famous victories over Ireland and the Scots, with Leitch declaring “We are now shifting the goal posts”. The ‘Big 8’ are New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, Wales, France and Scotland.
Jamie Joseph’s side will face the Springboks for a place in the semi-finals next weekend.
“This is great for Japanese rugby, not for Japanese rugby, rugby in Asia, Tier Two rugby. So, to firstly qualify for the quarter-finals, we are now shifting the goal posts.
“I mean, the key to our victory is our preparation, being aligned from the start of the week, the same consistent messages. So we will do that and we are not coming out next week to have a good game and lose, we are coming out to win.”
Ben Youngs has cautioned England against believing their “own hype” as they bid to avoid the upset against Australia that would end their World Cup.
The rivals clash in Oita on Saturday in a rematch of the 1995 and 2007 quarter-finals and England are strong favourites to complete a seventh successive victory over the Wallabies under Eddie Jones.
Their last defeat in the fixture was far more significant than each of those wins, however, as a 33-13 rout at Twickenham consigned them to a harrowing group exit in the global showpiece four years ago.
Australia are dangerous World Cup opponents, even allowing for their decline since reaching the final in 2015, but Youngs insists England have yet to reveal the extent of their armoury in Japan.
“Australia are very clever in how they attack and I have always found them challenging in that aspect,” Youngs said.
“That game in 2015 was one where they came up with a play we had never seen before – Bernard Foley comes around and plays it back inside to Kurtley Beale.
“You think they are going to do one thing and they do something completely different. It’s important we prepare for that.
“I like the way they play with their attacking mindset – and off the back of that you always get chances.
“We haven’t shown a huge amount in any of our games. Against America and Tonga we kept it pretty low-key. Against Argentina we had a bit more in the playbook but again didn’t need to show our hand.
“We will make sure we are right and ready to go and have things we haven’t had to use yet.
“You know that there are certain areas of the game you are strong against Australia. That record gives you belief but we won’t read too much into it.”
Youngs is only one of four players in Jones’ squad, alongside Courtney Lawes, Manu Tuilagi and Dan Cole, to have played in a World Cup quarter-final – the 19-12 defeat by France in 2011.
Of the quartet just Youngs and Tuilagi are likely to start at Oita Stadium, leaving England to face Australia with precious little experience of knockout rugby on the global stage.
“I was thinking the other day about when we played France in the 2011 quarter-finals,” said Youngs. “At that stage they were deemed to be in turmoil.
“My experience is that you can’t read into what happens in the past, it’s just about that 80 minutes. Don’t believe your own hype as a side.
“We cannot rely on what has happened before, thinking that will be enough, because it won’t be.”
Add in England’s enforced two-week break due to the Pool C decider against France being cancelled because of Super Typhoon Hagibis, impacting on their momentum, and the Wallabies have cause to feel emboldened.
After four years of build-up to Japan, Youngs admits the prospect of it being over on Saturday is unthinkable but denies their lack of high-quality opposition en route to the last eight is a hazard.
“It would be bizarre. We’ve had pre-season games too and they were tough games, so we’ve had a good run of games,” Youngs said.
“I certainly don’t feel like we’re undercooked. I think we’re in exactly the right spot. We haven’t had to show a huge amount yet – and that’s a good thing.”
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