RWC 2023 Spotlight: Wales
Ever since their tremendous third-place finish at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, it has been a case of nearly but not quite for Wales.
Following a period of under achievement in the 1990s and 2000s, Wales reached two more semi-finals in 2011 and 2019 during the Warren Gatland era, but a place in the tournament’s showpiece match has always proved beyond them.
We take a look at Wales’ RWC story.
RWC debut: 25 May, 1987 v Ireland in Wellington
RWC appearances: Played 44 – Won 26 Drawn 0 Lost 18 – Points for 1,238 Points against 865 – Win ratio 59 per cent
Most RWC appearances: Alun Wyn Jones, 21
Most RWC tries: Shane Williams, 10
Best finish: Third (1987)
Qualification for RWC 2023: RWC 2019 semi-finalists
Most memorable match: New Zealand 57-33 Wales, RWC 2003. Okay, it’s a loss but the manner in which Wales played, when all the odds were stacked against them, will live long in the memory. Having suffered a Six Nations whitewash earlier in the year, Wales arrived in Australia with little expectation on them to do well. Free from any pressure, they ripped into New Zealand in their final pool game and led 37-33 with just over 25 minutes to go by playing an exhilarating brand of rugby. It did not last as the All Blacks came roaring back to score 20 unanswered points, but in terms of entertainment, that match is right up there with the best. Wales took that form into the quarter-final against England and again had their more vaunted opponents on the back foot until England, like New Zealand, managed to find a way to change the course of the game and pull through.
Iconic moment: Paul Thorburn’s touchline kick to win the bronze medal at the inaugural tournament in 1987. Adrian Hadley’s try had brought Wales to within one point of Australia, but they were still reliant on their nerveless full-back to slot the extra two points to secure victory. Thorburn obliged and Wales went home with their heads held high.
Low point: Nineteen minutes into the Rugby World Cup 2011 semi-final between Wales and France at Eden Park, Wales captain Sam Warburton was sent off for a dangerous tip-tackle on Vincent Clerc. Despite playing with 14 men for three-quarters of the match, Wales came agonisingly close to reaching their first final, but Les Bleus held on to win 9-8.
In terms of being on the receiving end of shock results, look no further than the 1991 loss to Western Samoa. Samoa beat them again in 1999, before the Pacific Island jinx continued with defeat to Fiji at RWC 2007.
Iconic player: Shane Williams. Gareth Thomas scored a hat-trick on his debut against Japan at Rugby World Cup 1995, but Williams outscored the former Wales captain overall. In 11 appearances across three Rugby World Cups, the pocket-rocket winger danced his way to 10 tries and was also responsible for countless try assists.
Record-breaker: Josh Adams became the first Welshman to be top try-scorer at a Rugby World Cup when he ran in seven tries in as many games at RWC 2019.
Did you know? Wales conceded just five tries and 56 points in six matches up to their bronze final showdown with Australia at RWC 2011.
Quote: “It’s safe to say that’s the most people I’ve ever had watch me train – or watch one of my club games.” – Wales prop Rhys Carre, the youngest player in the squad and appearing at his first Rugby World Cup, on the open training session in Kitakyushu when 15,000 Japanese sang the Welsh national anthem.
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