warren gatland wales

Wales coach Warren Gatland

Having pushed South Africa hard in their last three encounters, Wales coach Warren Gatland (NZL) believes his side have the credentials to succeed in their opening Pool D game against the defending champions in Wellington on 11 September.

Although their head-to-head record of just one win and one draw from 25 matches against South Africa would suggest otherwise, Gatland told a news conference on Saturday he felt the tide was turning.

“I think the last three times we’ve played them (South Africa) there’s been very little in the scores,” he said.

“And we’ve outscored them seven tries to six in the last three matches, so there hasn’t been a heck of a lot between the two teams. We’ve just got to get over the final hurdle and get that ‘W’ next to our name.”

After suffering big defeats in their first two Tests in South Africa in 2008, Gatland’s team shaved the margin to 20-15 in the final Test, then 34-31 and 29-25 in their two encounters last year.

But Gatland knows South Africa will be a tough nut to crack and believes they won’t stray too far from the conservative approach that won them the title in 2007.

“They don’t play any rugby; they don’t do anything (expansive),” Gatland said. “We pretty well know what we’re going to get from South Africa.”

“They’ll play to their strengths and that’s what they’re good at doing. Definitely a hard side to beat.”

Gatland said there was no thought in the Welsh camp about resting players against South Africa to save their best for the other pool matches in the ultra-competitive Pool D, which also includes Samoa and Fiji.

“We’re definitely not doing that,” he said. “We’ll be picking the strongest side that we can and we want to start this group hopefully with a win and build on that and get a bit of confidence.”

Gatland said the team were in good shape, except for three players nursing calf injuries: prop Gethin Jenkins, back row Ryan Jones and fly half Stephen Jones.

“The word is they’re progressing well and hopefully are going to be fit for selection, if not for this game then definitely for the second game (versus Samoa).”

Wales’ 22-year-old captain Sam Warburton, playing at his first Rugby World Cup, knows from personal experience how tough the opening pool match is likely to be.

“I broke my jaw in the first minute the first time I played them (South Africa), so I know they’re a pretty physical side,” he said.