Pool B - Wales
Even though Wales has the ability to spring a surprise any team, they could be the disappointment of this tournament. They were walloped by England and won a morale boosting victory over Argentina in the August tests, but this wasn't a particularly strong performance.
Like Ireland, Wales have a good first team but lack depth in their squad which will pose a problem should key players be injured.
Traditionally Wales play well at Cardiff but are not particularly good away from home. The scrum is average, the line out less than average, they rely on their half backs, they have a strong but average mid-field, and there are no game breakers in the back three.
Wales are at their best when they have nothing to lose and they play a fast moving, passing game, as they did three years ago when they won the Grand Slam and when they played New Zealand in the 2003 knockout stages. Wales look weak when they revert to playing a conservative structured game.
Coach: Gareth Jenkins (Wal)
Captain: Stephen Jones
IRB Ranking: 8
Appearances: 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003
Odds to win: 50/1
Number of clubs: 239
Number of Registered players: 42,000
Matches MT W D L
21 12 0 9
Points For Against
Scores Tr Con Pen DG
63 45 41 6
One of the best rugby players in the world, Peel is a fast breaker and speeds the game up for Wales - without him they become a more traditional side. With his quick free taking and electric breaks from around the fringe of the scrum, Peel will keep a lot of back rows guessing. Wales don't have an adequate replacement should Peel be injured.
Like Ronan O'Gara for Ireland, Stephen Jones is vital to Wales' progression through the tournament. Jones is a good goal-kicker, can break through defences and is a solid tackler. He reads the game well and his lengthy partnership with Peel, like Gregan and Larkham for Australia, is fundamental to Wales. He has scored 425 points in 48 international tests since 1998.
A diminutive winger, Williams is prepared to attack from anywhere on the pitch. He has a surging pace over five or ten metres and given any space he has the ability to create an attack. But Williams' impact for Wales will depend on the possession that a mediocre pack can secure to give Williams and the other backs a chance to run at the opposition.
Rugby in Wales
Rugby in Wales was a working class game by the 1890's, particularly strong in the south of the country, where its popularity rivalled that of football. The Welsh Rugby Union was less strict in it's interpretation of the amateur ethos and avoided the schisms that occurred in many countries over Rugby League and Rugby Union rules and traditions. Welsh players competed internationally for the first time with some Scots under the name ‘Other Nationalities' against England in 1904. Rugby is the national sport of Wales.