Wales are intending to turn up the heat on New Zealand in their semi-final showdown in Newport on Wednesday.
The host nation booked their place in the last four the hard way, snatching a dramatic comeback victory over France in the final Pool D match at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium on Saturday thanks to a last-gasp try from wing Leigh Halfpenny.
New Zealand, on the other hand, have been in cruise control en route to the semis, scoring big wins in all three of their Pool A matches, including a 60-0 victory over Argentina to book a date against the Welsh.
But Wales coach Patrick Horgan believes the different roads taken by the two sides will stand his outfit in good stead when they meet at Rodney Parade.
“We’ve been in a pressure situation right from the start of this tournament. There’s been a lot of expectation on our players, being in Wales. We’ve had to deal with that pressure and responded pretty well on Saturday afternoon.
“New Zealand, on the other hand, have had no pressure put on them at all. They’ve been winning their games by 40, 50 and 60 points, so what we intend to do is put a bit of pressure on them and see how they respond to it. It does strange things to people, pressure, sometimes.”
Horgan said his team’s steely resolve was evident in the rousing win over the French.
“We were a little bit disappointed in our performance to be honest. We didn’t get into our structures very well after the first 20 minutes and France controlled the majority of the game. Their pack were excellent.
“But saying that, I think we showed a mental toughness normally talked about with teams [from] the southern hemisphere. I think our mental toughness was superb to keep going to the last 10 minutes and pull off a fantastic result really.”
Did he doubt his team could come back from 19-9 down?
“I doubted it a little to be honest, but once we got our field position and got a bit of ball, I thought we could always score tries against teams.
“We just weren’t getting the ball in the right field positions and France strangled the game – they didn’t go past three phases for 60 minutes I think. They kicked a lot, kept the pressure on us and controlled the pace of the game and we just couldn’t get the ball off them. But when we did, we looked dangerous and we came back.”
Horgan admitted his heart was in his mouth, so to speak, during the dramatic final moments.
‘Get it wide, get it wide’
“We were screaming, [to outside centre Jonathan Davies] ‘get it wide, get it wide’, because from the stand you could see the space there, but in fairness he executed it exceptionally well.”
Horgan said against New Zealand he expected a “totally different” style of game to the France clash.
“New Zealand have come here to play and show what talent they have got, which will probably suit us even more. We’re looking forward to it. We go to Newport with confidence and not to finish second.”
But he is only too aware of the size of the task against such formidable opposition.
“Collectively, they make really good decisions,” he said of Dave Rennie’s side.
“The play as a team but they’ve got fantastic individuals as well. They’ve probably got 26 guys in their squad who are [among the] top players in this tournament.
“We’re under no illusion how tough it’s going to be, but we go in there to put pressure on them and hopefully shake things up a little. We’ll be giving it a good crack.”
**Listen to live match commentary of the two semi-finals - New Zealand v Wales from 19:00 UK time and England v South Africa from 21:10 on Wednesday, 18 June on this website!**
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