Welsh spirits up for French clash

Thursday, 13 October 2011 00:21 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

AUCKLAND,  (Reuters) - Wales have the mindset, the skills -- and the talisman -- to take on France at the weekend in the rugby World Cup semi-final, defensive coach Shaun Edwards told reporters on Tuesday.

Wales, who beat fancied Ireland in the quarter-finals, have been transformed by 23-year-old captain Sam Warburton, Edwards said as he looked towards Saturday’s clash.

“The way he plays, he brings confidence to the team. He is not a captain who says a great deal but his mere presence on the pitch and his effort makes everyone that little more confident when he plays.

“When he was named captain, Wales was not the same team after that.” The Welsh will need that confidence, having lost three of the last four games against the French, but Edwards said the plan would be simple. “We have to make sure if France do get points against us, they have to earn them. That will be our focus going into this game.

“We do not want to hurt ourselves. If France work hard enough to get points, well maybe so. But obviously, defensively, we have to keep that to an absolute minimum.

“I think it’s a 50-50 game ... it’s 2008 since we last beat them. Our form has been a bit more consistent coming into this game but in the end it’s a 50-50 contest and may the best team win.”

The Welsh defence has been a revelation at the World Cup in New Zealand and much of the credit goes to Edwards, a former England rugby league international. “There are a lot of things that build up to a defensive system. Understanding your roles, courage, fitness, there are a million different components. In the end, the thing that sticks out is the quality of our tacklers,” he told reporters in an Auckland hotel.

“There is more emphasis as people realise how important defence is these days. When you have a back row like we have, it can’t be much fun carrying the ball against them, put it that way.

“All I can say is they (the team) have come together and in a short space of time they have improved rapidly. And it is not by accident that we have improved.

“It is down to hard work, strength of character, skill and a lot of work on the training part, what worked in the gym and what worked on the running track.”