Former Wales head coach Warren Gatland has reflected on how sorely his side missed the presence of injured utility back Gareth Anscombe in his team’s World Cup semi-final defeat to the Springboks in October.
Wales lost 19-16 to eventual champions South Africa in Yokohama in the knockout fixture, bringing an end to Gatland’s 12-year tenure with the side.
Gatland’s final match with Wales came a week later in the ensuing bronze final, which they lost 40-17 at the hands of the All Blacks in Tokyo.
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However, it was a fixture the Welsh may have avoided had they had the services of Anscombe available to them, according to the 56-year-old.
Anscombe was ruled out of the tournament after sustaining a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in a World Cup warm-up fixture against England at Twickenham in August, leaving him sidelined for up to eight months.
Speaking to WalesOnline, Gatland said that although he doesn’t normally dwell on player injuries as they “are part of the game”, he admitted that Anscombe could have been the difference between making the World Cup final in Japan.
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“We gave it everything in that semi-final against South Africa and at 16-16 with 10 minutes to go we were in control of the ball, the momentum had swung our way, I thought we were going to win and get ourselves into a World Cup final,” Gatland said.
“It wasn’t to be but that’s just rugby, it’s sport. I was gutted.
“That was the first time in my whole time that I felt we really missed a player and that was Gareth Anscombe. He was a big loss for us.
“Rhys Patchell did really well for us in a World Cup and Dan [Biggar] was excellent.
“But I just felt that the balance we had with Anscombe and Biggar beforehand, they complimented each other really well. They’re different types of players and you’re able to use them differently and use your strengths differently.
“It was the first time in my entire coaching career I felt that the loss of one player had a real effect.”
Wales had also lost veteran No. 8 Taulupe Faletau to injury prior to the tournament, while Cory Hill, Liam Williams, George North, Josh Navidi and Tomas Francis were all injured during their tilt for a maiden World Cup crown.
“If you lose someone like [Taulupe] Faletau – and we know how good he is – we’ve got other players who are able to fill the space,” Gatland told WalesOnline.
“A fit Faletau at his best would have been significant but there are other quality loose forwards there, so I felt like we could manage that.
“Anscombe is someone that we missed.”
He will then take a year-long sabbatical to take charge of the British and Irish Lions’ 2021 tour of South Africa before returning to the Hamilton franchise to take the helm of the club through to 2023.
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