TOYOTA CITY, Japan (Reuters) - After a disjointed build-up to the Rugby World Cup off the pitch and some patchy form on it, Wales will be relieved to play their opening Pool D game against Georgia at the City of Toyota Stadium on Monday.
Wales’ recent 14-match unbeaten run, that included a Six Nations Grand Slam, was ended in a 33-19 loss to England in August, and following subsequent home and away defeats to Ireland, they now have just a single win in their last four games.
Their preparations for the World Cup have also been hindered by the return home of backs coach Rob Howley to answer allegations he transgressed betting regulations.
Stephen Jones has been flown in as a late replacement, and while Wales have played down the disruption to their training, it is far from ideal at a time when they would be hoping to focus solely on matters on the pitch.
“Yeah absolutely,” coach Warren Gatland told reporters when asked if he was eager for the games to begin. “It’s nice to get away from the camp in Kitakyushu and come and base ourselves here (Toyota City). I can’t wait for Monday night.”
Gatland selected what he feels is his first-choice side for Georgia, but says that was always the plan rather than a reaction to some indifferent form.
“I’ve delivered this message for months. The plan has been to go pretty fully loaded for the first three games,” he said.
“If that team gives a good performance on Monday night then you have a good chance of getting selected for the Australia game.
“We haven’t expressed that vocally to the group. But I think they’re very aware of what their position is.”
Gatland, who will end his 12-year stay in charge of Wales after the World Cup, admits it has been a testing week.
“You have to deal with adversity at times, and it’s how you respond and react to that,” he said previously. “We were shocked (with Howley’s exit). The Union are dealing with this, and my focus has to be on preparing the squad.”
Georgia won two matches at the 2015 World Cup in England, surprising many with their prowess.
Gatland has highlighted their forwards as a danger, but Georgia centre David Kacharava, playing his fourth World Cup, has warned about their growing ability to be a threat with the ball in hand.
“Our backs have evolved a great deal,” Kacharava said. “Before, we relied heavily on our forwards but I think that with each World Cup our backs have got a little bit better each time, and we’ll continue to evolve.”
Kacharava will start the match outside of impressive 20-year-old flyhalf Tedo Abzhandadze, who looks a genuine star in the making.
As expected, captain Merab Sharikadze is not fit enough to play and instead the side will be skippered by loose-head prop Mikheil Nariashvili, and also includes giant flank Mamuka Gorgodze, who is also playing at his fourth World Cup.
Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty