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Survivor of Wales' dark day wary of Pool C finale danger

By PA
CARDIFF, WALES - NOVEMBER 19: Players of Georgia celebrate following the Autumn International match between Wales and Georgia at Principality Stadium on November 19, 2022 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Gareth Thomas knows from painful experience the misery that Georgia’s forwards can inflict on opponents.

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Wales need one point from Saturday’s Pool C finale against Georgia in Nantes to guarantee topping their group.

With a quarter-final place having already been secured for the fourth successive World Cup under head coach Warren Gatland, they are building towards an expected last-eight appointment with Argentina or Japan.

But before that there is unfinished business for Wales, even though Georgia are already out of the tournament following losses to Australia and Fiji either side of a draw with Portugal.

Ospreys prop Thomas will line up at Stade de la Beaujoire as the solitary survivor from Wales’ starting pack against Georgia in Cardiff 326 days ago.

He played just over an hour of what became one of Welsh rugby’s darkest days – a 13-12 defeat that effectively signalled the end for Gatland’s predecessor Wayne Pivac.

Two Jac Morgan tries helped Wales build a nine-point lead, but they were overhauled when Luka Matkava kicked a penalty two minutes from time that put Georgia in dreamland.

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Asked about Georgia’s scrum threat, Thomas said: “Yes, 100 per cent. That is what won them the game against us in the autumn last year.

“They are just such a physical side. Set-piece stuff we have to be on top of our game, as we know they are going to come strong.

“We have come a long way since the start of the summer, but we know this week will be a big test for us.”

Only an eternal optimist would have predicted Wales’ status as World Cup quarter-finalists just over a year after that Principality Stadium debacle.

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A poor Six Nations followed, when victory over Italy in Rome staved off the wooden spoon, but Gatland has once again weaved his magic.

A 12-year first stint in the job produced Six Nations titles, Grand Slams, two World Cup semi-finals and a brief spell as world number one team.

And three games into their World Cup campaign, Wales have a 100 per cent record and are strongly fancied to make the last four.

Thomas added: “We want to keep the momentum going that we’ve had over the last few weeks here, trying to hold onto that and push and grow as a team as we go forward to the quarter-finals.

“We are a completely different team to what we were last year.

“There has been a massive improvement in the squad, but we know that they are a very good side and we have to be on top of our game to be successful this weekend.

“It is the time we have spent together and the amount of work we have put in together. You cannot fault the amount of effort that has gone in this summer.

“The confidence within the team at the minute is something I haven’t felt before. We are in a good place.”

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