Rugby World Cup 2015: Wales can thrive as underdogs, says Davies
Wales centre Jonathan Davies discusses the prospects of Warren Gatland's side at Rugby World Cup
Jonathan Davies believes Wales can use the spirit of the underdog and bring Twickenham to a standstill at the World Cup later this year – by smothering England with their defence.
Warren Gatland needs all the resources he can get in a group that contains Australia and World Cup hosts England, who hold the bragging rights after an impressive performance at the Millennium Stadium earlier this year.
A Rhys Webb-inspired Wales took the advantage heading into half-time but the quick feet of Jonathan Joseph, and a fine kicking display from George Ford, handed England a 21-16 victory.
The English were underdogs that night but come September 26 at Twickenham, it may be Wales in search of a backs-to-the-wall victory in front of a deeply partisan crowd.
But they need only draw inspiration from recent history, not least the famous victory on English turf in 2012 as the boot of Leigh Halfpenny sealed the Triple Crown.
Davies was in the side that day but Wales must do without the centre this time around after he sustained a knee injury in May, which will cause him to miss the World Cup in its entirety.
With or without the centre Wales know how to keep a team away from the whitewash – in March they stifled Ireland for 45 consecutive phases before completing a rearguard triumph that will go down in folklore.
And Davies has called on his teammates to summon up the same spirit in order to topple the English again.
“When teams come up against Wales they don’t tend to play that much rugby,” said Davies, speaking at the Cardiff leg of the Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour, where Land Rover was rolling out their mascot recruitment as part of a beach rugby festival, run in conjunction with Cardiff Blues.
“If you look back at the second half against England this year they kicked a lot of ball, and traditionally our defence is very good. Teams don’t want to take that on as such and they were putting pressure on us through the air, and we created errors and gave them easy opportunities.
“In the first half against we were very good and took a lead into half time, and to be fair to England they came back at us fair and square.
“The boys will remember that and going to Twickenham is a very difficult place to go and win, you’ve got to make sure everything goes right on the day.
“When we won Grand Slams and Championships in the past it was our defence that was the key factor in negating the threat the teams have. To do well in the World Cup that has to be the same and (defence coach) Shaun Edwards will be working them incredibly hard, he puts pressure on us and that brings the best out of us.
“The boys will take a lot of confidence being underdogs, that spirit drives them on, and the whole atmosphere will be amazing to be a part of. They won’t worry too much about where it is.
“We won the Triple Crown there in 2012 and though the Millennium is a very special place, when you win at Twickenham that’s not too bad as well – I’m sure that we can repeat that.”
Wales are yet to lift the Webb Ellis Cup themselves but came closest so far in 2011, losing by a single point to France at the semi-final stage.
But if one criticism has been levelled at Wales over the years it is their seemingly inability to produce their best against the southern hemisphere elite.
The victory over South Africa last autumn was their first over any of the ‘big three’ – New Zealand, Australia and the Springboks – for six years, but Davies insists their poor record has not been for lack of belief.
“We never really doubted ourselves despite those close losses against Australia and South Africa, I think it was just a game that got everyone off the boys’ back,” he added Davies, who was a key cog in the 2011 campaign.
“That win against South Africa was huge and there wasn’t relief as such, it was just finally confirming what we knew – that we were good enough to compete.
“The boys will have that going into the World Cup and that will help in terms of confidence
“The big thing with us is that we need to make sure as a nation we couldn’t cause silly errors and giving the ball back to the opposition early. There aren’t many opportunities in international rugby so when they come you’ve got to take them.”
Jonathan Davies is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover is a Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2015 and is recruiting all 96 official mascots for the tournament as part of its ‘We Deal In Real’ campaign. Follow @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal