Rugby World Cup 2011: Legends back Wales despite Priestland injury

Rhys Priestland with Stephen Jones and James Hook
Priestland (centre) trains earlier in the tournament with Stephen Jones and James Hook

Legends Jonathan Davies and Phil Bennett believe Wales will cope in their World Cup semi-final against France without injured Rhys Priestland.

The former Wales stars insist strength in depth and fitness should see Wales into their first final.

Priestland is out with a shoulder injury with James Hook replacing him in the pivot role.

"One thing about this Welsh team is when they have had injuries whoever has stepped up has played exceptionally well," said Davies.

"It's a big blow. Rhys has played exceptionally well. His game management has been superb. He has done everything that has been expected of him.

Jonathan Davies
Jonathan Davies played for Wales in both union and league

Like Davies, Bennett says the Priestland injury is a setback for Wales but nothing that they cannot cope with selection-wise.

"It is a blow. Warren Gatland would have wanted to name an unchanged team to play France," said Bennett.

"[Priestland] has come of age in this tournament. He has been superb in his confidence and the way he has brought his backs into play, especially Jamie Roberts.

"But the big thing is that such is the confidence in this team at the moment we have got the likes of James Hook or Stephen Jones to come in.

"Hook is playing wonderful rugby, kicking very well and Stephen's got over 100 caps so they won't be too disappointed that they have got that talent to come in.

Phil Bennett
Phil Bennett played 29 times for Wales during the 1970s

Bennett believes Wales' pre-tournament preparations including a training camp in Poland have made them the "the fittest team in the competition".

And that, coupled with France's tough quarter-final win over England, will stand Wales in good stead.

"I see it [the semi-final] being a very tight affair. I think defences will come on top," Bennett added.

"But the big thing which I think Wales have in their favour is they are very, very fit. They are the fittest team in the competition. They have got lots of energy.

"Their fitness levels have gone right through the roof. Those weeks spent in Poland will stand them in good stead.

"I think France took a lot out of themselves against England last Saturday. I just believe Wales will be that little bit fresher, that little bit faster in a very tight game, and I think they will just about sneak it."

Davies says he has been hugely impressed with Wales' whole approach to the World Cup.

And he does not see why Wales cannot get past France and then go on to beat either New Zealand or Australia in the final.

"They have been fantastic ambassadors on and off the field for Wales," said Davies.

"They are playing with the self-belief that has surprised all of us. Their whole game. The whole package - the set-pieces, the go-forward, defence, the defensive speed, the offensive play - has just been unbelievable.

"The turnaround has been fantastic since August and I think because of that self belief … hopefully they can get to the final.

"It would be absolutely amazing [to get to the final]. They have been awesome in the World Cup and I think it's [the semi-final] is the most important game in the history of the Wales game.

"The momentum is with them and to get to the final they would be just one step away. If they get to the final they don't have to worry about anyone because of the physicality they have now."

Asked if Wales could get to the final Davies said: "Why can't we believe? I never thought I would see a Welsh team in a final of a Rugby World Cup in my lifetime I hope they get there and do it next week."