Four wins from four games would suggest it’s been the perfect World Cup group campaign for Wales as they look towards the quarter-finals.
But Warren Gatland, while a happy man, will know there are still areas where they can improve for next Sunday’s meeting with France in Oita.
Everyone will have their own memories.
Here are MARK ORDERS’ as he looks at what we learned from the past few weeks…
1. ALUN WYN JONES IS WORTH 40,000 MEN ON THE BATTLEFIELD
It is worth reprising once again Wellington’s contention that the presence of Napoleon on the battlefield was worth 40,000 men.
So is Alun Wyn Jones.
He isn’t just a colossus himself — witness his 25-tackle display against Australia and the wonderful, gutsy, uplifiting effort against Fiji.
As the conscience and leader of this Wales team, he also has a huge influence on those around him.
“He’s just a world-class player. He has the ability to bring others to another level,” said Rob Howley in 2016.
The same applies today.
2. SUPER-HUMAN BACKS CAN TROUBLE THE WALES DEFENCE
There’s a fair chance any rearguard in the world would be troubled by the Fijian pair of Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova.
Wales certainly were.
Welsh players were left clutching thin air 32 times in the game against Fiji in Oita, with wide-men Radradra and Tuisova causing most of the problems.
“There were 16 missed tackles on their wingers who, let’s be honest, are not the easiest human beings to tackle,” said Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards.
“If anyone has an A-Z on how to tackle Josua Tuisova, please send me it. They are incredible athletes.”
Some were suggesting Fiji’s tackle-busting exploits might encourage Wales’ opponents during the knockout stage.
But not every side has wings like Radradra and Tuisova.
3. REPORTS OF THE END OF WALES’ SCRUM ARE GREATLY EXAGGERATED
Let’s be honest: during the summer it was a concern, with distress signals being sent out in most of the games.
And when Samson Lee and Rob Evans were left out of the World Cup squad, many were willing to predict that all kinds of set-piece woes would befall the Welsh front row.
But Wyn Jones has been an unqualified success and Tomas Francis has gone about his business without alarms.
There may have been the odd issue late in games when the reserve props are on, but when the front liners have been in place it’s largely been fine.
4. CORY HILL’S A POTENTIAL HARLEM GLOBETROTTER
At least he made a mark before he went home injured without actually taking the field.
Hill’s attention-grabbing moment came during a visit to Sayatagani Elementary School, with the lock nailing a ridiculously challenging basketball shot with a rugby ball.
Meadowlark Lemon would have applauded.
5. WALES HAVE A 20st BALL-CARRYING MONSTER IN THEIR SQUAD
Look: Rhys Carre was only on the field 28 minutes, but when was the last time you saw a 6ft 3in, 20st 8lb tight-head make 42 metres from six carries, one of which was a thundering affair in the wide channels that had ‘outta my way’ written all over it?
His effort against Uruguay provided a glimpse of what Carre can do.
If he develops fully, and Saracens should help that process, he will be a big player for Wales.
Possibly as early as the knockout stages of this tournament.
6. GATLAND IS AT THE TOP OF HIS GAME
Most of the New Zealander’s selections at this World Cup have been on the money, notwithstanding the poor team display against Uruguay , and he has set the right tone with his media pronouncements, from the way he dealt with the Rob Howley affair to the point he made of sympathising with the Japanese people after Typhoon Hagibis did its worst.
He isn’t just a coach.
He is a leader, and a quite extraordinary one at that.
Wales will miss him when he’s gone.
7. JOSH ADAMS KNOWS HOW TO FINISH — AND HOW TO SPLIT DEFENCES
He has given Gatland’s side a cutting edge with his ability to slice through the opposition line and cross for tries.
There have been five touchdowns from him so far, including a hat-trick against Fiji, featuring one score which saw him finish quite brilliantly.
No-one else has bagged more tries at this World Cup.
And no-one else more has made more line-busts than Adams — Radradra, Tuisova included. The Welshman leads the way with 13 on that front. It’s all been something else.
8. NICKY SMITH NEEDS TO SORT OUT HIS TRY-SCORING CELEBRATION
After Gareth Bale applied to trademark his shirt number and famous ‘heart’ goal-scoring celebration, it was estimated the move could be worth £10 million a year to the Wales footballer.
Nicky Smith probably shouldn’t expect as much.
He contorted his fingers into a ‘W’ and an ‘M’ in homage to the Waunarlwydd Massive after scoring against Uruguay.
It no doubt went down a storm in Waun, but it’ll be a surprise if it catches on much beyond the village in Swansea.
9. WALES KNOW HOW TO FIND A WAY TO WIN WHEN THE PRESSURE IS ON
A defining feature of Wales during their 14-game winning run up to the summer was their ability to find a way to victory.
It is still with them.
When Australia had clawed their way back from 26-8 adrift to move within a single point of Warren Gatland’s team with 12 minutes to play in Tokyo, it appeared the men in gold had built up winning momentum.
But somehow Gatland’s team changed the narrative.
Replacements made a difference but every Welsh player seemed shot through with defiance. They knew the importance of the match and they were not prepared to leave the field as losers.
10. LIAM WILLIAMS COULD LIGHT UP THE KNOCKOUT STAGES
Some rugby players are rightly lauded for their exceptional skills, while others receive plaudits for their bravery.
Liam Williams’ point of difference is that he is extraordinary on either front.
His display against Fiji saw him shimmering his way through the islanders’ defence one minute, counter-rucking the next and coming up with a couple of no-fear hits into the bargain.
There was also THAT turnover which secured victory against Australia.
11. HADLEIGH PARKES IS A TOUGH NUT
To play centre in a World Cup requires a certain physical hardness, with no end of brick outhouses heading your way. To do so with a cracked bone in a hand is on a different level again. That’s what Parkes has been doing, and it’s been impressive.
12. DAN BIGGAR HAS THE COURAGE OF A LION
Maybe his address should be Harm’s Way, because he seems to spend so much time there, anyway.
Yes, his tackling technique was poor when stopping Australia’s Samu Kerevi, but Biggar had decided that by hook or by crook the big man wasn’t going to pass him and he succeeded in halting him, albeit while taking a nasty crack to the head.
He also took an accidental thump against Fiji and had to leave the field but only after another typically resolute display.
Maybe he’s the gutsiest fly-half Wales have had.
Some would say there’s no ‘maybe’ about it.
13. THERE REMAINS THE ODD QUESTION MARK OVER THE SQUAD’S STRENGTH IN DEPTH
Four wins from four games might suggest otherwise, but Wales misfired significantly against Uruguay and struggled to cope with the South Americans’ ferocious appetite for defence. It was a performance lacking inspiration and a number of players probably enjoyed their first and last action of this World Cup.
Wales will hope first-teamers stay injury free because it’s debatable whether they have complete cover in all areas.
14. GARETH DAVIES IS IN THE FORM OF HIS CAREER
The scrum-half has been one of the Welsh success stories of the World Cup so far.
Lively against Georgia, he scored that peach of an interception try against Australia and touched down off the wing against Uruguay.
He is enjoying his rugby and has been arguably as dangerous as any No. 9 at this tournament so far. It’s been good to see.
15. KEN OWENS HAD A LUCKY ESCAPE
Being fair, that Fijian chap could have come a heck of a cropper after being deposited to the ground judo-style by Owens in Oita.
Viliame Mata landed on his back but it could so easily have been his neck.
It didn’t look good and the Wales No. 2 was duly yellow-carded.
It could have been worse.
16. WALES NEED TO PRODUCE 80-MINUTE PERFORMANCES IN THE KNOCKOUT STAGES
Let’s be honest: while they have been chalking up the wins, they haven’t produced one gun-to-tape display in this tournament so far. Outstanding in the opening halves against Georgia and Australia, they started slowly against Fiji and were disjointed throughout against Uruguay, with mistakes at every turn.
Maybe that is the way it is at World Cups — injuries happen, certain players need to be rested, new combinations can take time to gel, nerves can befuddle some, one or two may not be quite up to it.
Whatever, Wales are through to the last eight and the challenge now is to keep improving.
That means playing for the full 80 in the quarter-finals and the two games to come.
Three steps to conquer the world?
It will only happen if they are at their best.
17. PASSION IS STILL GOING STRONG IN SPORT
It must have meant a lot to beat Australia.
But it was still a surprise when Alun Wyn Jones marked the moment of sweet triumph by kissing George North.
“Well I think his wife is okay, put it that way,” he joked later.
Don’t knock passion in sport.
18. NAVIDI AND TIPURIC HAVE TO START IN THE BACK ROW
Tipuric didn’t have his greatest game in a mix-and-match side against Uruguay but it was a messy affair generally and the openside had previously been outstanding against Georgia and Australia.
His vigilance in defence is highlighted by 34-2 tackle stats during the pool stages and he has also had his moments as an attacking force.
Navidi? He doesn’t do bad games.
Whatever the flak coming his way on the pitch, he takes it and returns fire. He is courageous, selfless and unassuming with it, a huge asset.
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19. WALES REALLY ARE GENUINE CONTENDERS
Any side that goes through the pool stage unbeaten has to have a chance.
New Zealand are favourites, yes, while England and South Africa are immensely physical.
But Wales are tough, defiant and have firepower behind.
In their coach and the captain they are as well-served as any team.
Sides will underestimate them at their peril.
This content was originally published here.