TOKYO (Reuters) - Wales coach Warren Gatland praised his players’ maturity after they came through a nail-biting Rugby World Cup encounter with Australia in Tokyo on Sunday to take control of Pool D.
The Six Nations champions led 26-8 early in the second half but had to withstand heavy pressure as the Wallabies fought back before holding on to win 29-25.
Gatland, who has led Wales to four Six Nations titles since taking over as head coach in 2007, said the teams control under pressure carried them over the line on Sunday.
“In the second half they put us under a lot of pressure and had a lot of the ball and it became a typical Wales-Australia (match), with it coming right down to the wire,” said the New Zealander.
“This team and squad have really grown up in terms of game management. It is something that has improved significantly. It was good also in the autumn and at the Six Nations. They have learned a lot and matured as players.”
Gatland named the same team that beat Georgia six days previously and the 56-year-old commended his players’ fitness levels.
“We showed some real character under pressure and then there was the couple of turnovers that we got towards the end of the game,” he said.
“We had a six-day turnaround, Georgia wasn’t an easy game and I picked the same team… and we were under a lot of pressure in the second half but I think our composure and fitness levels were very good.”
Gatland will also be pleased with the tactical appreciation shown by his players, catching the Australians out with drop goal attempts on three occasions. Two of those kicks were successful, including an effort from Dan Biggar within the first minute of the match.
Gatland said it had been a tactic to get points on the board early.
“What with how the game is defensively now, it is hard to score from 15-20 metres out… so we just thought it was important to keep the scoreboard ticking over.”
Reporting by Jack Tarrant; editing by Tony Lawrence