Rugby-Wales can handle weight of favourites tag – former winger Williams

By Jack Tarrant

By Jack Tarrant

TOKYO, June 12 (Reuters) - Wales can thrive under the pressure of being favourites at this year's Rugby World Cup, former winger Shane Williams said on Wednesday.

In the wake of their recent Grand Slam triumph, Wales will go into the tournament ranked second in the world.

Warren Gatland's Wales are now undefeated in 14 test matches since February 2018 and will be arriving in Japan with arguably their best chance of lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy.

Williams, his country's leading try scorer and a veteran of three previous World Cups, said Wales have been under pressure for two years and it will be no different in Japan.

"I think the (Welsh) players have been under enough pressure the last two years and they have handled it pretty well, going unbeaten in that time, Grand Slam champions," Williams said in Tokyo at an event to mark 100 days until the World Cup.

"A bit of extra pressure? They will be fine I am sure.

"It doesn't usually happen, certainly going into a World Cup, with Wales up there as the favourites but it just goes to show how well they are playing at the moment and hopefully that will install some confidence in the group.

"They are playing some good rugby at the moment but at the same time they know they can improve as well and that makes Wales a very dangerous side going into this World Cup."

Wales have been drawn in Pool D, arguably the trickiest group at the tournament alongside twice winners Australia and fancied dark horses Fiji and Georgia. The pool has four teams in the top 12 of the world rankings.

Williams is aware of the threat posed by the opponents – especially Fiji who defeated Williams' Wales at the 2007 World Cup – but believes a challenging start to the tournament could be beneficial for the Welsh.

"It is going to be difficult but if you want to win the World Cup you have got to play your good rugby in the pool stages and then get better as the tournament goes on," Williams said.

"Sometimes it is better to have a tough pool because then you are already bloodied for that quarter-final, provided you get there."

Wales start their World Cup campaign against Georgia in Toyota on Sept. 23. (Reporting by Jack Tarrant; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)