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October 3, 2015

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3 wins out of 3 but Wales still worried

WALES still has its Rugby World Cup destiny firmly in its own hands but there is a nagging fear that despite its heroics so far it could yet be denied a quarterfinal berth.

After surviving a second-half Fijian onslaught to register a third consecutive win in the tournament and top Pool A on Thursday, the injury-plagued Welsh should already be looking forward to the knockout stages.

But the nature of the so-called “Pool of Death” means it could still all come down to their final match against Australia at Twickenham next Saturday — a scenario coach Warren Gatland knows is highly probable.

“To think you can lose one game in this pool and miss out on a quarterfinal berth — that’s how tough it is,” Gatland said after the fraught 23-13 victory over Fiji in Cardiff.

No team has ever gone out of the World Cup having won three matches since five-team pools were introduced in 2003 but after Wales failed to earn a bonus point against Fiji that is the worry in the rugby-mad nation. Only once have bonus points decided the outcome of a pool — in 2011 when France edged out Tonga and went on to reach the final — but should England beat Australia today it could come down to such slender margins again.

That is why Gatland, despite being a proud New Zealander, will be urging on Australia at Twickenham today when victory for the Wallabies will spare Wales a nerve-jangling all-or-nothing clash the following week.

“To be honest, (Australia) would do us a big favor wouldn’t they?” Gatland, whose side beat England in such gutsy fashion last week.

“It means we make the quarter-finals so it’s hard not to. If we’re being entirely selfish about our own destiny, Australia can do us a big favor on Saturday.

“It’s a bit hard for a Kiwi to be jumping up and cheering for Aussies as well. I’ll be quite neutral this weekend.”


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