KUMAMOTO, Japan (AP)Warren Gatland was quick to move on to the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal Wales lined up against France.
It meant the coach didn’t have to talk too much about how his backup Welsh XV labored past Uruguay 35-13 with a forgettable display on Sunday.
At the least, they gave Wales a fourth win from four matches, achieving a pool sweep for the first time since 1987.
But there wasn’t much momentum to take from a dominant display that was ruined by sloppy errors. Gatland also gave 11 Wales players their first starts in the tournament – five of them their first appearances – just four days after the bruising win over Fiji, and said he’d consider any players who impressed for the quarterfinals team. But few impressed.
”I’m happy with four from four, not too happy with some of tonight,” Gatland said. ”We were poor at times, not clinical, too many turnovers.”
Wales will play France next Sunday in Oita. Their only previous World Cup meeting was the 2011 semifinal at Eden Park, where France beat a 14-man Wales 9-8.
”We have a pretty good record against France but they are a tournament team. People write them off, and then they produce a performance no one expects,” Gatland said. ”It will be tough but we will thrive on that. We seem to play better against better sides.”
Wales has a history of scrambling against teams it is overwhelmingly favored to beat, and the display on Sunday against Uruguay, a team it crushed 54-9 in their only previous matchup, was almost a cliche.
In the face of Uruguay’s scrambling, scrappy defense, Wales could score only four legitimate tries and received a penalty try.
Two more tries were ruled out on video review, and three others were bombed. Winger Hallam Amos had three ruled out, all of them his own fault.
The fumbling and bumbling meant Uruguay was in the match at halftime, behind only 7-6. While the Teros never looked like winning, they hustled to the end and managed to humble the Welsh by scoring their only try while down to 14 men.
Uruguay straddled the offside line constantly and was down to its last warning from referee Angus Gardner when Wales prop Nicky Smith, after 14 phases, burrowed over with Bradley Davies on his back in the 17th minute.
But only Uruguay added points in the rest of the half as flyhalf Felipe Berchesi kicked two penalties for them to trail only 7-6.
Wales finally made separation with Josh Adams’ fifth try of the tournament.
Uruguay flanker Santiago Civetta’s yellow card for a professional foul opened the way for a Wales penalty try from a rolling maul, and 21-6.
But the Teros were inspired to push hooker German Kessler over from a ruck.
Wales hit back with tries to replacement backs Tomos Williams and Gareth Davies, both scrumhalves, but they were merely gloss.
”They’re a tough outfit to put away,” Gatland said.
Uruguay coach Esteban Meneses accepted the compliment. Uruguay upset Fiji, and to limit Wales to 35 made for a happy ending to the Teros’ campaign.
”Our target in the World Cup was to show the world that we can play and the evolution of rugby in Uruguay, and we have achieved that,” Meneses said. ”We were able to play on a par with Wales and really hang on till halftime. Although the score widened in the second half there were areas where we were able to play as we wanted to.”
Better news for Gatland was the injury report. A scan on center Jonathan Davies’ knee reduced their worries, winger George North’s damaged ankle was improving, and he was pleased with flyhalf Dan Biggar’s head injury assessments.
Gatland believes he will have a full squad to pick from for the France quarterfinal. But in reality, not many who faced Uruguay ought to be in contention.
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