By Jack Tarrant
KITAKYUSHU, Japan (Reuters) – Wales, charged with confidence following their Grand Slam triumph, will be arriving in Japan later this year with the sole aim of bringing home the World Cup for the first time, according to assistant coach Huw Bennett.
The 51-cap test hooker, who was in Japan this week putting the final touches to the preparations at the Kitakyushu training base, said the Welsh would not be daunted by the expectation that inevitably comes with a 14-match winning streak.
“Right from the off we are coming to the World Cup to win it,” Bennett told Reuters after hosting a coaching clinic for local children in the city on the southern island of Kyushu on Tuesday.
“There is no doubt about that. Currently we are second in the world, just won a Grand Slam, we are 14 out of 14.”
Under head coach Warren Gatland, Wales have built a squad they believe can beat anyone in the world.
They have conquered Ireland, England, France, South Africa, Australia and Argentina during their unbeaten run with their last loss coming against Ireland in Dublin on Feb. 24, 2018.
They begin their World Cup campaign against the big men of Georgia on Sept. 23 but many in the principality are wishing the tournament could start tomorrow.
“Everyone is definitely excited and everyone in Wales just wants that World Cup to come around but we all know there is a long road to get there,” said Bennett, who looks after strength and conditioning for the squad.
“Nothing will change from our side, there will be hard work.”
After giving the victorious players an enforced rest in the early European summer, Wales will play in four warm-up matches as players make a push for the final places in the squad.
Bennett played in three World Cups and started the 2011 semi-final against France — the second time after the inaugural tournament in 1987 that Wales had reached the last four.
They have never been to the final, though, and four years ago — reduced to fourth or fifth choices in some positions because of injury — lost to the Springboks in the quarter-finals.
Bennett believes this year will be different because of the greater depth of playing talent available to Gatland — a factor illustrated by the strength of their bench in the successful Six Nations campaign.
“It’s definitely clear that in the past two seasons it has really come on,” said Bennett.
“I think it really started to show during our tour to Tonga and Samoa, whilst the Lions tour was going on.
“Some guys got their first cap experiences there and then they had opportunities in the following autumn. That generated momentum then and has really got people fighting for places.”
Gatland took 16 Welsh players on the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand in 2017, leaving a young Wales side to secure wins, and gain experience, against Samoa and Tonga.
Wales have been drawn in World Cup Pool D alongside twice champions Australia, Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant, editing by Nick Mulvenney)