Wales World Cup 2023 campaign under Warren Gatland has already been eventful, to say the least. A hard-fought bonus point 32-26 victory over the dangerous Pacific Islanders of Fiji was followed up by a harder-than-expected 28-8 triumph over minnows Portugal.
It was very much a last-gasp effort against ‘the Bears’ as Toby Faletau’s try three minutes into the red on the clock gave Wales what could be an invaluable fourth try and vital attacking bonus point last time out.
Fiji’s shock 22-15 victory over group favourites Australia has meant that Gatland’s side top Pool C after two rounds with a maximum ten points. Fiji and Australia follow in second and third respectively with six points on the board courtesy of a victory a piece and two bonus points. One of which is for scoring the required four tries in a match and the second, a losing bonus point each for staying within the allocated seven-point defeat margin against their conquerors.
Whilst the for the neutral this has made Pool C entertaining and provided the closest group of the tournament within the initial competition stage, it has brought about the possibility of several potentially problematic scenarios that effect Wales’ route of qualification into the last eight.
If Wales beat Australia on Sunday evening in Lyon all will be looking rosy. Gatland’s side’s fate will be in their own hands knowing that victory over Georgia two weeks later would be enough to win the pool and set up a last-eight tie against the second-place side of Pool D.
The likely opposition being of one of Samoa, Argentina, or Japan with England heavy favourites to win the pool.
However, if Eddie Jones’ Wallabies triumph that is when things get a little more complicated with bonus points and points difference coming into play.
A bonus point win for Jones’ side would take them above Wales going into their final match with Portugal the following weekend, with a victory for Australia then over the minnows the required task for a place in the last eight.
If Wales, however, were to stay within seven points of the Wallabies or score four tries against their opposition, Gatland’s side would be level on points going into the final round of games, bringing points difference into play. A prospect that could be advantageous to the Welsh who would play a week later than their Aussies counterparts and would know the scoreline that would be needed to leapfrog their rivals into a top two spot in the pool.
Fiji currently are arguably in the best position in the group and will watch on this weekend with intrigue as they take their turn to sit out a round of fixtures. The Pacific Islands will then go into their final two fixtures against Georgia a week Saturday and Portugal the following Sunday knowing the task in hand needed to progress.
Bonus point victories over their lesser-ranked opponents would mean that the worst-case scenario for Simon Raiwalui’s side would be that they would finish level on points with Australia. Their fate then would be in their hands knowing they would need a better points difference than the Aussies after their meeting with Portugal to topple the Wallabies. Very much like Wales, with the Aussies already having completed their fixtures before the final weekend, progression would be there for the taking.
Anything less than maximum points from both of their games brings into play the possibility of all three of the countries in question having the same final points at the end of the pool phase. If this scenario arises the teams will be separated by first their scoring points difference and then, if by chance two of the nations have the exact tally, by the number of points scored and finally the highest amount of tries scored.
There will be many permutations likely to be talked about within each camp with Fiji keen to avoid the embarrassment that occurred in the previous tournament in Japan, losing to minnows Uruguay four years ago.
Whereas for Wales, it could be a nail-biting finale in their final game against Georgia. The physical Eastern European outfit will be keen to remind Gatland’s side that they are no push-over and it has only been ten months since one of the darkest days in recent Welsh rugby history saw a dramatic 13-12 victory for the visitors in Cardiff.
Certainly, no plain sailing then with plenty of twists and turns certainly still to emerge over the coming weeks of the tournament.
[Lead image: Welsh Rugby Union]
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