When the draw for Rugby World Cup 2021 was announced Wales found themselves in what head coach Ioan Cunningham labelled the ‘Pool of Death’.
With games against hosts and reigning champions New Zealand, Australia and Scotland, Wales face a formidable set of fixtures in Pool A, but skills coach Richard Whiffin admits they have only had one game on their mind in their pre-tournament preparations – this Sunday’s encounter with Scotland.
A win against their Six Nations rivals, Whiffin, acknowledges, would go a long way to ensuring they meet their target of a place in the quarter-finals.
“It is massive, it was a tight game in the Six Nations and we expect it to be tight again but, ultimately, if we can get off on the right foot there and start off with a win, it gives us a good chance to, worst-case scenario, come away with third place in that pool,” he said.
“It is a massive target for us and it is the only game we have been looking at for the past couple of months.”
Point of difference
Wales have won 16 of the last 18 meetings with Scotland dating back to 2006 but, as Whiffen has highlighted, there is not much between the teams.
Only five points separated the teams back in April at Cardiff Arms Park with Wales coming out on top, 24-19, while Scotland won a similarly tight affair, 27-20 in the corresponding fixture the year before.
In games such as these, a moment of magic can make the difference and in Jaz Joyce, Wales have a genuine superstar who can turn a game on her own.
“She is a genuine x-factor player who has pace that sets her apart from other players in the competition,” said Whiffin.
“Our plan is based around how we can get her the ball in space because the more touches she gets in the right areas of the field and in space, the more she is going to put fear into the opposition.
“She is a fantastic player and has taken to professionalism outstandingly. She has really knuckled down on other aspects of her game that previously maybe she didn’t have time to work on so she is becoming a more all-round player as well.”
Whiffin will return home to the U.K for a short break once Rugby World Cup 2021 is over, before returning to New Zealand in mid-November to take up his exciting new role as Highlanders attack coach in Super Rugby.
For the time being though, all his focus is on Wales and the Rugby World Cup, which isn’t difficult given the level of interest in the tournament in Auckland and the north island.
“There are a lot of banners up everywhere, you see it on TV a lot with wall-to-wall coverage on Sky Sports, and now we’re in the final week leading up to the first tests, the media has ramped up,” he said.
“Everywhere you walk in Auckland people stop you and ask you which team you are with.”