Wales coach Warren Gatland hailed his team as a balanced side comprising fearless youth and hard-nosed experience after their 22-10 victory over Ireland in the World Cup quarter-final on Saturday.
The Welsh outscored the Irish by three tries to one, dominating the loose and offering up some sterling defence that gave no quarter.
Wales led 10-3 at half-time thanks to an early Shane Williams try converted by Rhys Priestland and a Leigh Halfpenny penalty, but a Keith Earls five-pointer converted by Ronan O’Gara drew Ireland level early in the second half.
But the Irish flagged in the closing period, allowing Wales in for two tries from Mike Phillips and Jonathan Davies.
“The boys knew that we were either going home on Monday or we’re here until the end of the tournament, so that was the motivation,” Gatland said.
“We’re not ready to go home yet,” added the New Zealander, himself a former Ireland coach
“We know we’re in good shape physically. We felt we’ve got better and better as this competition has gone on.”
The team, Gatland explained, had benefited from the influx of young players, notably teenage wing George North and 23-year-old captain Sam Warburton, and also the fact the World Cup was in New Zealand and not the ‘goldfish bowl’ of Wales.
“There’s no baggage. There’s no fear factor,” he said of the raft of players in their early 20s.
“But there’s also a nice balance with some great forwards, with their size and speed, forwards who can carry, and experience up front.
“The youngsters express themselves, they have no fear and there’s a nice mix with some older players. The balance is the best we’ve ever had.
“We were very confident before the game, without sounding too arrogant, that we were capable of winning the game reasonably comfortably.
“The great thing is that we’re in New Zealand, we’re not in the bubble that’s Wales so we’re not listening to the pundits every day, we’re not listening to the negativity that sometimes comes out of Wales.”
He also singled out the fact that his team had been drawn in a tough pool alongside defending champions South Africa as one of the reasons they were hitting form at the right time.
“It was a very, very tough pool and to come out of it will have held you in very good stead for a quarter-final and hopefully a semi-final,” he said.
“That first game we lost to South Africa, it could have gone either way (the Springboks won 17-16), and since that we’ve built momentum.
“In the two wins against Namibia and Fiji, we showed a ruthlessness that we may not have shown in the past.
“In the first-half, our defence was absolutely outstanding. It shows what good shape the boys are in.”
Asked if it would be tough to keep the Wales team grounded ahead of their first appearance in the last four since the inaugural World Cup in 1987, Gatland said: “I don’t think it’s going to be hard at all.”
Warburton, while elated with the victory, said all thoughts would now turn to what lay ahead.
“We’re here for another two weeks now, we have to refocus on Monday and look forward to the semi-final,” the Cardiff Blues flanker said.
“We haven’t won anything yet.”