Wales are surprisingly just one game away from the Rugby World Cup, and this is why they could shock the world and win the whole thing!
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Wales are on a roll
Warren Gatland's side have plenty of momentum, having responded to a narrow defeat to South Africa in their opener with four straight victories, each one more impressive than the last. It's been noticeable in recent years that when Wales hit form, they are very difficult to stop. Two obvious examples are their 2005 and 2008 Six Nations triumphs when, after convincing starts, they twice completed the Grand Slam. They failed to even finish in the top half of the Six Nations table in their other attempts over the last ten years, illustrating their tendency to be brilliant or dreadful. At the moment, they are indisputably on the positive end of that scale. That's also a reason why they are favoured for semi-final success against a French side with a significant head-to-head advantage over them. Well, that and...
France are semi-final specialists
By that, we mean experts in the art of losing semi-finals, having bowed out at this stage in three of the last four tournaments, each time after strong quarter-final showings. Equally noteworthy is the fact that on the last two occasions, it was a European rival, rather than a highly fancied southern hemisphere giant, who forced them to pack their bags. In 2007, it was England who rendered their heroic progress past New Zealand pointless. Four of the six teams to have extinguished Les Bleus' World Cup hopes have headed home as winners, while the only nation to have fallen with the final in sight as frequently are the experts at squandering positions of strength in this competition, the hosts New Zealand.
New Zealand aren't guaranteed to make the final
There are a few of negatives when it comes to the hosts. New Zealand are frequent flops as favourites and hosts, never winning. And the All Blacks have lost two of their three meetings in the last year with Australia, who Wales would be even more confident of beating in the final having seen them defeated by an Ireland side that they clinically eliminated last weekend.
Wales have shone going forwards
The major factor in Wales' run of nine wins in 12 has been a string of near faultless defensive displays. So it's encouraging that since arriving in New Zealand, they have proven just as capable in attack, standing out as the only country besides the favourites to score over 200 points. Their tally is arguably a greater feat than the All Blacks' given the level of opposition that they've faced, the 66-0 stroll past a decent Fiji team a highlight. Fly-half Rhys Priestland has been their chief points scorer with 29, though many others have chipped in, with five contributing 15 or more. By contrast, only four France and Australia players have been so prolific.
Gatland has achieved the perfect blend
Every great squad needs a mix of experience and know-how, and youth and exuberance and Gatland has done as good a job as any coach at the tournament in striking that balance. The Kiwi boss can call upon ten players with 40 or more caps - on average the semi-finalists have 9.5 such players per squad - yet his group have an average age at least a year younger than that of France and two younger than New Zealand's.