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Wales sets sights on 3rd place at World Cup

Updated: October 17, 2011, 01:48


AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Assistant coach Neil Jenkins says Wales has to grab the chance to become the third-best team in international rugby, even if that wasn't the aim coming into the World Cup.

Wales was beaten 9-8 by France in the first World Cup semifinal and Australia was beaten 20-6 by New Zealand in the second, leaving the No. 2-ranked Wallabies and No. 4-ranked Welsh to play off for the bronze medal on Friday.

Jenkins said Wales was disappointed at losing its semifinal so narrowly, missing the chance to play New Zealand in Sunday's final, but would make the best of its situation.

"Obviously the final is the one we all want to be in,'' Jenkins said. But "it's a test match, it's an important test match for us and we have to front up and be ready to go on Friday night.

"It's a big game for us. We want to try to become the third-best side in the world, that's what we'll try to do. We're up against a very good side - the Australians are going to be hurting as much as ourselves from losing against the All Blacks.''

Jenkins drew parallels with the 2007 World Cup at which Argentina, underrated before the tournament, beat France in the bronze medal match to win widespread praise for placing third.

"I remember four years ago Argentina had a fantastic tournament,'' he said. "South Africa were too good for them in the semifinals but they played some outstanding rugby in that third-fourth game and comfortably beat France in Paris again.

"We'll be looking to play some rugby, try to do what we've done all tournament, play with some pride in ourselves, express ourselves, enjoy ourselves.''

Friday's match was a further opportunity for a young Welsh team, coached by New Zealander Warren Gatland, to prove itself a rising force in world rugby, Jenkins said.

Led by its 23-year-old captain Sam Warburton, Wales lost only one match in pool play - to 2007 World Cup champion South Africa by a single point - and upset Ireland in the quarterfinals before going down to France in the semifinals, again by a point.

Throughout the tournament Wales had played skillful and enterprising rugby, for which it had won recognition and admiration, Jenkins said.

"The two games that we lost, we lost by a point each time,'' Jenkins said. "So we're a very good side, we know we've made an awful lot of progress throughout the tournament and obviously prior to the tournament and we certainly want to show sides what we're about and turn up Friday night and put in a good performance.

"We haven't been in this situation before, losing a World Cup semifinal and obviously in four years' time you'd like to be in the final. But when we start training tomorrow we'll get a feeling for where the boys are at.''

Jenkins praised the contribution Gatland has made to Welsh rugby in his four years in charge. Gatland recently signed a contract extension which will see him continue in the role of head coaches until 2015.

"I think other than last year the seasons we've had under Gats have been pretty impressive,'' he said. "First up there was a Grand Slam, second year from my point of view we were only fractions away from back to back Grand Slams: one pass in Paris and a kick at home against Ireland in Cardiff and we could have been backing that up and no Welsh side has done that for a long time, if at all.

"The third season was disappointing but this year we've had a very good year and I think Gats is one of the best if not the best coach in the world.''

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