Wales take on France in the third 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-final on Sunday, with Warren Gatland hoping to guide the Dragons to just their third semi-final ever.
Both teams are unbeaten in Japan; Wales topped Pool D with four wins, the first time they have achieved that feat since 1987. France, meanwhile, earned three wins before Typhoon Hagibis put paid to their Pool C finale against England.
The two teams of course have history in the knockout stages of the competition, and this is where we begin our talking points.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT
There two have history, both past and present. Wales fans still wonder what might have been eight years ago in Auckland, when the Dragons had their wings clipped by referee Alain Rolland, captain Sam Warburton sent off with 61 minutes of the game to play for a tip tackle on Vincent Clerc.
Wales still could and probably should have won the game, but eventually lost 9-8. In the ensuing final, nervy New Zealand – nothing compared to the dominant juggernaut they are today – edged home 8-7 to lift a second crown and end talk of mental fragility.
It is a result that is still raw for those Wales players who suffered Eden Park pain, as former centre Jamie Roberts wrote in his Telegraph column ahead of the match.
There was and remains a real sense that a maiden title was there for the taking against a slightly limited and fearful host nation in 2011, had Wales not fallen to the French.
Likewise, Les Bleus are still haunted by a more recent failing, their Six Nations defeat to Wales at the start of the year. The hosts stormed into a 16-0 lead at the Parc des Princes but contrived to lose 24-19. No team has ever held such an interval lead in a Six Nations game previously and surrendered it.
Only two teams – Argentina in last year’s Rugby Championship against Australia and Wales in a friendly with France in 1996 – have given away bigger leads in international rugby history. Even by their impressive ability to implode, this was messy.
THE FRUSTRATING FRENCH
The one thing that can always be expected from the French is the unexpected, which makes them an intriguing and dangerous prospect for Wales on Sunday.
Maddeningly inconsistent for a long period now since their Five and Six Nations glory days, France will enter 2020 without a Six Nations title in a decade. They won five of the first 11 from 2000-10. They finished bottom in 2013 and have frustrated and failed for far too long.
And yet they are capable of unfathomable brilliance. They beat England in last year’s Six Nations and possess flair and quality in their ranks, with young guns Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack and Damian Penaud all leading the charge.
They also possess a knack for turning up on the big stage. They have featured in three World Cup finals, along with England. Only New Zealand and Australia (both four) have more appearances.
They have been runners-up on all three occasions – in 1987, 1999 and 2011. In the inaugural tournament they dispatched co-hosts the Wallabies 30-24 in the quarter-finals. In 1999 they blitzed the All Blacks 43-31 in one of the World Cup’s most memorable matches. New Zealand were again the victims in 2007, beaten 20-18 in the last eight.
Jacques Brunel’s side’s 2019 World Cup serves as the perfect microcosm to their overall productivity. Brilliant in a 23-21 opening Pool C win against Argentina that could have gone either way, they then toiled against the USA, holding a precarious 12-9 lead with 13 minutes to go before cutting loose to win by 24 points.
Their final game against England was cancelled due to a typhoon. Who knows what storm awaits Wales in Oita.
WINGMAN WANTS TO BE TOP GUN
When you think of weapons Wales could use to take out France, Dan Biggar’s right boot immediately springs to mind. As does George North’s ferocious power running or the almost telepathic vision of Jonathan Davies.
But it is the silent yet deadly mini gun in Warren Gatland’s arsenal that could prove the most potent.
Josh Adams is the joint leading tryscorer at the tournament and two records are in his sights. Shane Williams’ six tries for Wales at the 2007 World Cup and the eight tries scored by Jonah Lomu (1999), Bryan Habana (2007) and Julian Savea (2015).
The first is a record haul for a Welshman at a World Cup. The other three jointly hold the record for most try lines crossed at one tournament. Adams has five from four games and has admitted he is looking to chase both records down.
That he is in a position to even do so is remarkable given where he’s come from – he only made his Wales debut 21 months ago.
The season following the last World Cup, Adams – who was at Worcester Warriors – spent it on loan at Cinderford, in the third tier of the English league system.
Now he is blazing a trail on the game’s biggest stage, torching the stats sheet in terms of clean breaks made, 13, which is the most in Japan. His finishing against Fiji was deadly and key to killing off their sizeable threat.
Although Wales head into the unknown, Adams no longer lives in anonymity.
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