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'There is not really one stand-out team going into the World Cup'

By PA
The Rugby World Cup Webb Ellis trophy is pictured before the Autumn Nations Series rugby union match between France and New Zealand at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

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Wales captain Dan Biggar believes that next year’s World Cup is “very much a level playing field” after northern hemisphere nations served emphatic notice of their credentials.

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England remain the only European country to be crowned world champions following a Jonny Wilkinson-inspired triumph in Australia 19 years ago.

And while there is still more than a year before rugby union’s next global extravaganza takes centre-stage, the form guide is taking tantalising shape.

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Ian Foster fronts the media after the loss to Ireland in the second test | All Blacks press conference
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Ian Foster fronts the media after the loss to Ireland in the second test | All Blacks press conference

Ireland’s first victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand, England beating Australia in Brisbane, Wales ending 58 years of hurt on South African soil and Scotland toppling Argentina away from home represented a staggering super Saturday.

All four touring teams now enter series deciders next Saturday, while the sport’s world rankings are set for a considerable power-shift.

“It is really exciting looking forward to 12 months or so time in France,” Biggar said after Wales toppled the world champions 13-12 in Bloemfontein.

“There is not really one stand-out team going into the World Cup, as there has been the last couple of times probably where New Zealand have been streets ahead of everyone.

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“It is very much a level playing field, and anyone can beat anyone.”

A week after pushing South Africa to the limit in a first Test thriller, Wales levelled the series when Gareth Anscombe kicked a touchline conversion two minutes from time after fellow substitute Josh Adams claimed his 20th Test try.

It was Wales’ first victory over the Springboks in South Africa, arriving at the 12th attempt, and came little more than three months after Biggar and company were defeated by Italy in Cardiff.

“Credit to Wayne (Wales head coach Pivac) and the management that we probably didn’t over-react to the end of the Six Nations,” added Biggar, who took a blow to his shoulder and went off early in the second half at Toyota Stadium.

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“We definitely should have won against France, we could have won against England and we were obviously disappointed with the way things finished (against Italy).

“We stuck true to our guns and game-plan in terms of what we are trying to achieve.

“I think professional sport is so cut-throat. When you lose, those defeats tend to last for months and months, as opposed to sometimes your victories are over before you blink.

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“There have been some very, very good Wales teams to have come here and been sent packing. We are a really tight-knit group, and everyone deserves a pat on the back.”

For matchwinner Anscombe, whose strike set up a series decider in Cape Town next Saturday, it proved a particularly sweet occasion following his long fight to overcome a career-threatening knee injury.

He missed the 2019 World Cup and more than two years of Test rugby, before returning against New Zealand last autumn.

“Last week was two years to the day when I had the surgery, the osteotomy, and it wasn’t about whether I was going to play again, it was whether I was going to run,” Anscombe told www.wru.co.uk.

“There were so many unknowns, and it is just a bit of a ‘pinch me’ moment that I am here. My last big surgery – my third – was on July 7, 2020, and that was when everything got turned upside down.

“That effort, that kick, is the culmination of so many people’s work. I am just glad I was able to step up when I was supposed to and just do my job.

“Maybe I had the rugby gods on my side. I am just glad that I could play a part in this group achieving something pretty special.”

Anscombe missed the birth of his baby son Theo last month, having left it as late as possible in agreement with Pivac to leave for the South Africa tour, and he added: “It will be nice to show him this in 10 years’ time and say ‘this is why dad missed it’! Hopefully, he will understand.”

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