By Neil Leverett
- Wales take on France in the quarter-finals of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Oita on Sunday morning
- Warren Gatland’s men seeking third semi-final berth against Les Bleus
- French beat Wales 9-8 in the 2011 semi-final, the last tournament meeting between the duo
OITA, JAPAN – As the 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-finals take shape, can Wales avenge painful defeat from eight years ago against France in Oita on Sunday?
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Battle for Yokohama
After England and New Zealand booked their respective safe passage into next weekend’s Rugby World Cup semi-finals in Yokohama, Wales will look to join the duo and either hosts Japan or South Africa, as they clash with France in Oita on Sunday.
Having come out on top of a keenly-fought Pool D – determined by a tense victory over Australia – Warren Gatland‘s men have been handed the more favourable last eight tie with a France side that have yet to impress during the early weeks of the tournament.
Previous results will mean little come Sunday however, and for the Welsh in particular, this weekend sees the chance to erase painful memories of their defeat to Les Blues in the semi-finals in Auckland almost eight years ago to the day.
Auckland agony for Welsh
Having made made their way to the last four of the 2011 World Cup, Wales were poised to reach a milestone final versus an again underwhelming French XV, but the Dragon’s flame was doused early on with Sam Warburton‘s red card for a tip-tackle of winger Vincent Clerc.
Gritting their collective teeth to hang on with 14 men and in the absence of the talismanic skipper, Gatland’s side managed to score the only try of the match at nine points down. With fly-half Leigh Halfpenny failing to convert however, Wales trailed by a single point with time ebbing away.
Halfpenny was then given the chance to erase the miss, but as the Cardiff Blue shied from an improbable – but eminently reachable – distance, the ball dropped five inches short of the post, dropping under the bar, as a ragged France held on to the reach the final via Morgan Parra‘s penalty triple.
That day still stands and the most painful of sporting memories for a nation that holds rugby as a religion, and on Sunday at the Oita Stadium, Wales will have the chance for a dose of redemption and a third semi-final berth.
With Wales able to name a full-strength squad for the clash, the addition of readied Dan Biggar is a huge fillip for the Welsh, but having sustained two head injuries already in Japan, skipper Alun Wyn Jones will be aware of wanting to protect his star kicker.
Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies have also been cleared for game, whilst George North – yet to make in impact in this World Cup – is fit and raring to lead the Welsh fire-breathing dragon.
As one of the most impressive throughout the tournament thus far, Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi are joined in the back row by Aaron Wainwright, as Ross Moriarty drops to the bench.
Having made 13 changes in the rather disjointed victory over Uruguay, Gatland has reverted to the same XV that edged the Wallabies earlier in the tournament and also thrashed Georgia. But will it again be a winning formula?
Penaud, Dupont poised
For Les Bleus, Head Coach Jacques Brunel has been given a helping hand with both Antoine Dupont and Damian Penaud having recovered in enough time to play on Sunday.
Like England having not played in fortnight, France – who laboured to two-point wins against both Argentina and Tonga in the Pool stages – their lack of game time could allow the rather lethargic French pack the chance to catch Wales on the hop, with Penaud and Dupont at the centre of Brunel’s hopes.
Psychology does strange things to teams in the sporting arena, and as the French Coach told iNews, his team’s tension-filled win in New Zealand in 2011 will be used as ammunition in Oita. Despite being the favourites as he calls the Welsh perhaps rightly, Brunel playfully states, “we won against them in the World Cup finals in 2011. I will remember that.”
Wales play France in the third 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Oita, Japan on Sunday, kick-off 8.15 am UK time.
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