Bristol forward and ex-Wales captain, Ryan Jones, believes the current Welsh squad “can’t afford a slow start” in this Autumn’s Rugby World Cup.
‘Group of Death’
Wales are grouped with Uruguay, Fiji, Southern Hemisphere giants Australia and great foes England in Pool A for this year’s World Cup, as one of the three rugby giants will fall at the first hurdle.
Warren Gatland’s side open their tournament proceedings against South American outsiders, Uruguay, on September 20th before taking on Six Nations rivals England at Twickenham six days later.
Jones, who was talking at an community event as the Webb Ellis Trophy continued its tour around the British Isles, highlighted how the Anglo-Welsh clash on September 26th “could define both nations' World Cups” and how “It is an enormous fixture outside of a Rugby World Cup, let along with everything that is at stake on September 26".
On the grandest stage the Welsh will be out for revenge at the home of English rugby after two consecutive Six Nations defeats, as they look for the form that blew England away in 2013 as they claimed the Six Nations Championship over Stuart Lancaster’s side.
World Cup warm up fixtures
Before Wales start their World Cup campaign they will play three warm-up fixtures as Gatland prepares his squad for the rigors of Pool A.
First up Ireland are welcomed to the Millennium Stadium on August 8th before a return trip to Dublin three weeks later, with Italy rounding off pre-World cup proceedings on September 5th back in Cardiff.
Jones, who was capped 75 times for his country, believes his Welsh counterparts World Cup hopes could depend on “how quickly they galvanise over the next 10 weeks” alongside “how England and Australia fare”.
The three time Grand Slam winner continued to explain that “we'll have a better idea of that when we see the friendlies in the summer, when we see the squads settle a bit, see the form the players are in, what shape they're in, see what injuries they come out with.”
One step further?
Four years ago the Welsh suffered semi-final heartache in the 2011 Rugby World Cup hosted in New Zealand, as they agonisingly lost by one point in an 9-8 defeat to eventual runners-up France, a match tarnished with the controversial dismissal of current captain Sam Warburton.
Qualifying from the formidable Pool A would certainly raise confidence in the Welsh camp for the knockout stages and Jones sees “no reason why Wales can't get out of the group”.
With the Rugby World Cup less than three months away, all eyes will be on England, Australia and Wales in the early stages as all three international powers aim to extend their campaign into the latter half of October at the expense of one another.
Lancaster’s England kick-off this year’s event on British soil on September 18th against Fiji with Wales’ opening encounter against Uruguay coming two days later.