Wales coach Warren Gatland has already begun plotting his revenge after his side’s hopes of reaching a first World Cup final were dashed by South Africa in Yokohama on Sunday.
The Six Nations champions, whose only defeat in their previous six meetings with the Springboks had come in the quarterfinals four years ago, went down 19-16 in a bruising encounter that fell a long way short of England’s pulsating victory over the All Blacks 24 hours earlier.
But Gatland, whose successful 12-year reign with Wales ends after Friday’s bronze-medal match against his native New Zealand, is already seeking payback – looking to his return as coach of the British and Irish Lions for the 2021 tour to South Africa.
“It’s a tough game to play, that third-place playoff,” said Gatland, who has led Wales to four Six Nations titles and two World Cup semi-finals since 2007.
“The All Blacks are probably hurting as much as we are. It’s my last game in charge of Wales and it will be monumental,” he added.
“As a coach, apart from being with the Lions, they’re the only team I haven’t beaten with Wales, so it would be nice to achieve that.
“Then look with excitement about going back to coach in New Zealand with the Chiefs – and then back to the Lions for 12 months or so and try to have some revenge on tonight’s game with South Africa.”
Gatland said Handre Pollard’s 76th-minute penalty had killed Welsh momentum, with the game locked at 16-16.
“With 76 minutes on the clock and at 16-all, it’s a big turnover from a breakdown,” he said.
“I felt the longer the game went on that we would get a chance, it didn’t feel like it was a game too far at all.
“I thought we would get the opportunity, but we were in a real arm-wrestle,” added Gatland.
“I thought South Africa deserved to win the game – and as a coach you take that on the chin.
“But I’m really proud of the boys for never giving up and with a little bit of luck and the bounce of the ball, maybe things cold have been a bit different.”
‘FACE TELLS THE STORY’
Talismanic Welsh captain Alun Wyn Jones fought back tears after the defeat, four years after the Boks broke Welsh hearts with late 23-19 win at Twickenham.
“Probably my face tells the story,” he said. “Hurting obviously, disappointed. But we’ve still got the opportunity to make a bit of history.
“There’s no real consolation, it is what it is. But it’s another opportunity to put this red jersey on that means so much, not only to the group of players we’ve got, but the nation back home.”
Jones praised the effort of the Welsh players, despite being worn down by South Africa’s aerial bombardment.
“It’s funny, the tighter games you play are usually attritional like that, as Gats says,” he said.
“Not until those four or five minutes towards the end did we feel out of it. But in a semifinal it does become a game of chess – that’s what we found and we were just a few percent short.”
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