Welsh World Cup comments fire up ABs

SHAUN EDWARDS: Said he thought Wales could have had a chance of beating the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup final.
SHAUN EDWARDS: Said he thought Wales could have had a chance of beating the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup final.

Warren Gatland will need to reverse more than just his side's woeful form when he takes back the Welsh reins against the All Blacks this week.

The former Waikato hooker may wish he could take back the bullish words of defence coach Shaun Edwards at last year's Rugby World Cup.

Edwards' comments hit a raw nerve that hasn't stopped hurting.

"Looking at how the final went - the All Blacks were there for the taking. I just think had we have gotten into the final, given the size of our team, we could have matched them," Edwards said.

"I felt, with having three backs over 105kg, had we come up against the likes of Conrad Smith, [Ma'a] Nonu and potentially Sonny Bill [Williams], we would have brought it to them - it would have been a great match-up."

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and first five-eighth Aaron Cruden confirmed yesterday there was lingering resentment towards Edwards' perceived arrogance.

"You never sort of forget things like that," Cruden said.

"There was a lot of talk last year surrounding the World Cup that they fancied their chances, if they made it through to the final, of tipping us up, so I'm sure there is no lack of motivation for them, and it'll be exactly the same for us," Cruden said.

Edwards' remarks appear to have served the All Blacks the perfect motivation this week in Cardiff. Hansen has challenged Wales to back up those bold statements at Millennium Stadium.

"They wanted to play us in the final of the World Cup and told us they were going to beat us," Hansen recalled. "This is their opportunity to prove that.

"We just need to turn up and play the way we can play. Whatever they've done prior, they'll get right up for this game. It's the one they've been waiting for."

After finishing his duties with the British and Irish Lions this week, Gatland rejoins the Welsh as they slip further into disarray after shock losses to Argentina and Samoa consigned them to five straight defeats.

Wales were the darlings of last year's World Cup until captain Sam Warburton copped a controversial red card early in the semifinal against France. That effectively ended their tournament and they have been stewing over it since. More than 13 months later, Wales get the chance to prove their talk isn't cheap.

And there's no doubt their dismal run of form has them at boiling point.

"I'd say so. That's the feeling we get," Hansen said.

The Red Dragons have slipped into a state of turmoil without Gatland at the helm.

Having coached Wales, Hansen knows their mentality and he expects last year's ghosts to wake them from a near knockout count.

Injuries have played some part in Wales' sudden and surprise breakdown. Most pundits expected their talented young squad to come of age and challenge the balance of power. Instead, they have gone backwards.

Questions were again asked of their mental frailties after three losses to the Wallabies in June.

The Welsh had all three tests for the taking, only to inexplicably blow them at the death. Their confidence appears shot. Losing to the Pumas and Samoa at home were demoralising blows.

Hansen suggested they had failed to flush the dunny and move on. "Maybe they're suffering from the three losses in Australia. That would have been quite heartbreaking for them," he said.

"They were good enough to win those games and played good rugby. They've had a lot of injuries.

"I'm not sure what's happening to them but we believe they'll get right up for this game and we need to match that intensity in our preparation, physically and mentally," Hansen said.

Gatland may not be the white knight but his presence provides a much-needed boost for under-fire interim coach Rob Howley.

"I didn't know he ever left," Hansen said of Gatland, who has still had input into the Welsh setup.

After a patchy win over the Italians, and with Edwards' insulting comments ringing in their ears, there should be no danger Hansen's men will be complacent.