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Rugby World Cup: Gatland has given Wales belief, says Edwards

Shaun Edwards has paid tribute to his boss Warren Gatland for following a “gut instinct” that could ultimately see Wales crowned world champions.

More than a third of Wales' matchday squad against World Cup semi-final opponents France on Saturday is likely to be aged 23 or under.

Wales coach Gatland's faith in them has not wavered, either before the World Cup or during a tournament when players like captain Sam Warburton, number eight Toby Faletau and centre Jonathan Davies have become pivotal performers.

“It is down to Warren,” said Wales defence specialist Edwards, in assessing the startling arrival on a world stage of the gifted young generation.

“He followed his gut instinct. He probably took a lot of stick from certain people, but once again he has been proved right.

“We came to New Zealand last year with umpteen number of players missing, and we played against the All Blacks in Hamilton and pushed them very close.

“In that team, we had about four 20-year-olds in the back-line.

“You have to coach them (younger players) a bit differently. Experienced players I would coach a little differently.

“They (youngsters) just want to be taught. If you tell them to jump over that wall they will jump over it. If it's an experienced player, you will tell him why you want him to jump over that wall.”

Wales' exciting style of rugby during the past month has won them many new admirers, and they will head into the French clash having scored 169 points and 24 tries.

“I get the impression a lot of neutral people are now supporting us,” Edwards acknowledged.

“When asked, people often say that their second favourite team is Ireland, but I have been absolutely taken aback by the amount of positivity from the New Zealand people and other nations. They are saying that we're now their second team.”

Edwards is relishing being at the sharp end of a World Cup, even more so after he was part of the British and Irish Lions coaching staff in South Africa two years ago when the Springboks gained a 2-1 Test series triumph.

It was an agonising loss from the Lions' perspective, and Edwards added: “I am still gutted we didn't win that Lions series.

“I don't think I will be totally happy as a coach until I win a Lions series.

“This is my first World Cup, and we are doing well at the moment. It would be nice to do a little bit better.

“I would feel unfulfilled if we don't win this weekend. It would have been a relatively successful campaign, but you don't get opportunities like this too often. It is up to us to seize the moment.

“We are obviously getting accolades for the way we have been playing, but once you get to knockout games you realise that these are the pressure games and when you want to be at your best.

“We feel the more pressure that is on us, the better we play.”

Wales have lost six of their last seven Tests against France — the only victory since 2005 came during the 2008 Six Nations Grand Slam-winning season — and Edwards warned his players they must not become architects of their own downfall.

“Part of our problem against France in the past has been that we have hurt ourselves,” he said.

“In 2009 we gave away two interceptions against them, and in Paris last season we had a charge-down which was pivotal in the game.

“If France do get points against us (on Saturday), they will have to earn them. That will be the focus of our defence going into the game — we don't want to hurt ourselves.

“If you look at France in the Six Nations, in the last five or six years they are the team that has won it the most.”

Belfast Telegraph


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