Georgia on Wales' mind as Gatland calls for focus

TOKYO • Six Nations champions Wales will seek to put the betting allegations around former assistant coach Rob Howley behind them and focus on staking out their Rugby World Cup credentials when they take on Georgia today.

Stephen Jones, the team's former skipper, has flown in as the new attack coach to replace long-term incumbent Howley, who was sent home to face an investigation into alleged gambling infringements.

It is an unwanted development for a team touted as genuine title contenders under the canny eye of head coach Warren Gatland, but he has urged his players "to draw a line in the sand, and concentrate on what your job and your role is".

With Australia beating Fiji 39-21 in Pool D's opening match, the New Zealander has named his strongest side for the clash against the Georgians, who have won just four of their 16 games at the last four Cups, as they kick off their campaign for their maiden trophy.

Veteran lock Alun Wyn Jones will play his fourth Cup and equal the Wales record for Test appearances (129), held by former prop Gethin Jenkins, after he was named to lead the team.

It will be the oldest Welsh starting side at any Cup, with an average age of 28 years, 331 days, but that experience has helped the team get over the loss of Howley, Gatland's right-hand man of 11 years.

While the fiasco had left the squad "shell-shocked", Wales hooker Ken Owens insists they are now using it as "a galvanising force".

"We are never short of a little bit of adversity in Welsh rugby or a story breaking in a match week," Owens said. "The boys have just responded perfectly."

After falling at the last-eight stage in 2015 and a narrow semi-final loss to France in 2011 that was skewered by Sam Warburton's controversial early red card, Wales have unfinished business in Japan and a convincing win over Georgia will gear them up nicely for what will likely be the Pool D decider against two-time champions Australia on Sunday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


WALES V GEORGIA

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2019, with the headline 'Georgia on Wales' mind as Gatland calls for focus'. Print Edition | Subscribe