Despite his side’s six-try victory in Toyota, fuelled by a first-half blitz from which the Georgians never really recovered, Warren Gatland won’t be getting ahead of himself.
The manner in which Wales’ backline swept aside their opponents in the first half was no doubt an encouraging sight for Gatland and his coaching team. The Welsh attack is a potent force, capable of puncturing holes in the sturdiest of defences. To therefore see it operating in this fashion was a joy to watch.
But as the Kiwi admitted afterwards, Wales’ inability to keep the game a closed affair points to the work that still needs to be done. “It was a little bit messy,” Gatland said. “Georgia came pretty hard at us in the second half and defended a bit better. To concede those two tries was disappointing.”
Against Australia, the Welsh will know they can’t take their foot off the pedal. In truth, Sunday’s showdown will be the real indicator of where Wales stand. Prior to the beginning of the tournament, Gatland had praised this squad as the strongest he’s ever assembled for a World Cup. Beat the Wallabies – something Wales have never managed before on this stage – and you feel there may be something to his words.
But after Monday’s win, as well as Australia’s own battling victory over Fiji, it’s hard to discern a clear victor. Both have an abundance of talent at their disposal with which to batter and wear down their opponents. Both have a potential for lapses in concentration. The set piece, in particular, looks set to play a central role in determining the flow of Sunday’s match.
Wales’ scrum initially held its own against the Georgians but the second half revealed the inconsistencies that still linger, with Gatland’s men conceding a penalty within their own 22 that led to a Levan Chilachava try. If Australia get their tactics right, the set piece could be the Wallabies’ ticket to glory in Tokyo.
Lingering over this coming collision, and Wales’ tournament as a whole, is the issue of injuries. The Welsh have more than coped without the experience and power of Toby Faletau – he was absent for their Six Nations victory earlier this year – but Dan Anscombe’s late withdrawal ahead of the World Cup came as a major blow. In Dan Biggar they have a worthy replacement, but the wonder is how much better, how much more threatening the Welsh would have been with these players among their ranks.
Wales’ second row options are perhaps the greatest concern. With Cory Hill due to fly home as he continues to struggle with a leg stress fracture, and Adam Beard recovering from appendix surgery, Alun Wyn Jones and Jake Ball are Gatland’s only fully fit specialist locks. The Welsh are nonetheless hopeful that Beard will be able to feature this weekend but with match fitness an issue, it remains to be seen what role he will play. If either Jones or Ball fall victim to injury, alarm bells will start ringing.
All is well for now, and the Welsh will be optimistic of building upon Monday’s opener to take the fight to Australia, but one slip and the Six Nations champions will find themselves walking a dangerous line. They cast a cautious eye forward knowing full well what defeat on Sunday and further injury could do to their World Cup hopes.
Scotland, in comparison, are already on the verge of derailment. The capitulation against Ireland on Sunday, effectively consigning them to a quarter-final face-off with New Zealand (assuming all results play out as predicted), set a woeful starting tone for their campaign.
The side’s unfolding injury nightmare has simply added salt to the wounds. Their hopes of a respectable run here in Japan suffered a third major blow in as many days after scrum-half Ali Price was ruled out for the remainder of the tournament. He joins Hamish Watson, one of Scotland’s most prized assets, in making an early journey back to the UK.
Magnus Bradley steps in for Price but with the loss of two key players, combined with the disheartening nature of Sunday’s defeat, Scotland have their work cut out for them. There had been plenty of hope and expectation surrounding this Scottish team, but that is quickly fading into the ether. A convincing win against Samoa on Monday is vital for restoring confidence levels. Anything but will amount to self-immolation.