Rugby World Cup 2019: Wales follow ranking delight with Turkish trip

Dan Biggar showed his qualities against England to stake his claim as Wales' World Cup fly-half
Dan Biggar showed his qualities against England to stake his claim as Wales' World Cup fly-half

Wales' plans for global domination continue on Sunday when the latest stage of their World Cup preparation takes them to Turkey.

After already spending some of the summer in the picturesque Swiss Alps, Wales fly out to their second overseas camp knowing they are top of World Rugby's rankings for the first time since those records began in 2003.

Warren Gatland's side have two bruising battles under their belts against England which has yielded a victory apiece for these familiar foes on their respective home grounds. The two teams could yet meet in the World Cup quarter-final or even beyond.

There have been injury blows along the way, with fly-half Gareth Anscombe and number eight Taulupe Faletau ruled out of the tournament.

Flanker James Davies was denied a chance to impress after being forced off against England in Cardiff on Saturday, while full-back Liam Williams was a late withdrawal with a hamstring problem.

Now Wales' preparations will continue in earnest over the next week in unfamiliar but testing conditions.

Turkish delight?

If Wales' players thought the hard work would relent after the brutal fitness camp in Switzerland and back-to-back battles in six days against England, they will be sadly mistaken.

In the Alps it was about hard work at altitude. This time they will be tested in different ways on the nine-day trip.

Most Welsh tourists going to Turkey in August can look forward to a relaxing break. Not this travelling party though.

"Our second camp is our warm-weather camp, we will be based over in Turkey, putting the players through heat stress, preparing them for the conditions in Japan and we will be training about four times a day," said Gatland.

Wales players in the Swiss Alps
Wales players were put through their paces in Switzerland in 2019

Wales travelled to Doha in 2015 for a similar scenario, but this time the Gloria Sports Arena facilities are the destination of choice.

Wales return to face Ireland in Cardiff on 31 August for their third World Cup warm-up game, the final match before the official 31-man squad is named a day later.

So while the England encounters exposed Wales' top stars to early season Test matches, this Cardiff clash represents a final audition for fringe players ahead of World Cup selection D-Day on 1 September.

"That is going to be an important match for players involved as it will be their last chance before we name the RWC squad," said Gatland.

"We will announce the following day so it is a huge match for the players."

Cotton wool

A major talking point has been the number of warm-up games - four - played before Wales fly out to Japan.

The England double-header is followed by an identical arrangement with Ireland, with the Dublin date of 7 September to follow.

Anscombe's serious knee injury suffered at Twickenham fuelled the fire as the fly-half was ruled out of the World Cup, with calls to wrap up players in cotton wool ahead of the tournament.

Players need game time though and Faletau's injury was suffered in training.

Hooker Ken Owens started both games against England in the World Cup warm-up matches
Hooker Ken Owens started both games against England in the World Cup warm-up matches

Established first-choices such as captain Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Liam Williams, George North, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty, Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar now have tough tests under their belts.

Wales fans will be hoping these star performers will be monitored to ensure they arrive at the opening game against Georgia on 23 September in peak condition.

Contrastingly, Leon Brown, Rhys Carre, Rob Evans, Samson Lee, Ryan Elias, Bradley Davies, Cory Hill, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Scott Williams, Hallam Amos, Steff Evans, Owen Lane and Jonah Holmes are yet to see any action.

Some are still recovering from injuries, while others have not been selected for the England home and away fixtures.

Expect to see some of these players named in Wales' side on 31 August as they aim to present a compelling late case for World Cup selection.

Gatland will have to cull nine names from his current extended 40-man squad when he unveils his final party.

More injuries might play their part in this process, while Gatland will have to work out key selection conundrums; how many forwards and backs to take and how many players required in specialist positions like hooker, scrum-half and fly-half.

The Ireland game in Cardiff will be intriguing for Wales' famous number 10 jersey, where Jarrod Evans and Rhys Patchell could face a straight shootout to join Biggar as the two Wales outside-half options in Japan.

Biggar confirmed his credentials and responded to his critics with a man-of-the-match performance against in England in Cardiff. Former Wales and Lions legend JJ Williams had claimed Wales would not win the World Cup with Biggar at 10.

So are Wales really the world's best?

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Warren Gatland on Wales being world number one

Statistically Wales are now top of the pile, which will be confirmed when the weekly World Rugby rankings are published on Monday.

For now, Wales hold a very small numerical margin over world champions New Zealand, who lost their top spot for the first time in 10 years.

Gatland admitted New Zealand journalists might laugh at this. After all, Wales have not beaten the All Blacks since 1953.

There was also the convincing manner in which Steve Hansen's side hammered Australia 36-0 on the same day Wales defeated England 13-6 in Cardiff to achieve their ranking accolade.

Gatland will know Wales have much to improve on following their opening two run-outs against England.

Positives like the emergence of outstanding young back-rower Aaron Wainwright have been tempered by an ineffective scrum and failure to so far repeat the clinical attacking nature of the 2019 Grand Slam success.

Wales could soon lose this new-found number one status in the weekly rankings. They will not mind if they are not top of the pile going into the World Cup.

Gatland knows only World Cup final victory in Yokohama on 2 November matters. The next step of the journey for that quest for global success begins in Turkey this week. And it will be no holiday.

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