March 8, 2014
Wales bring form and lack of fear to semis
Wales bring form, confidence and a fearless attitude to the first rugby World Cup semi-final against France at Eden Park on Saturday.
A generation of Welsh players struggled in the shadow of the team who ruled Europe in the 1970s and as recently as last November the national team were assailed on all sides when they drew 16-16 with Fiji.
This year, Fiji, who eliminated Wales from the 2007 World Cup, were drawn in Wales' group again along with defending champions South Africa and Samoa, who upset Wales in the 1991 World Cup and again eight years later.
Pessimists feared the Welsh could even fail to advance from the group stages. However, instead of faltering under the pressure they have flourished.
They lost by a point to South Africa in a match they should have won and then swept Samoa and Fiji aside to set up a quarter-final against Ireland.
Last weekend's 22-10 victory over Ireland, who defeated Australia in the pool stages, revealed a team hitting their peak with a tough forward pack setting a platform for a backline combining brute strength with old-fashioned Welsh subtlety and invention.
One major plus for Wales has been the belated return to form of a group of players who performed so well in a losing Lions series in South Africa two years ago and who now form the spine of the Welsh side.
Jamie Roberts, bristling with muscular authority and aggression has been the outstanding centre of the tournament.
Mike Phillips is once again a commanding figure at scrumhalf, Alun Wyn Jones is back to his best in the second row and Adam Jones has shown why he is regarded as one of the most skilled tighthead props in the game.