After four tournament warm-up games – two with England and two against Ireland – Wales’ players are ready to rock in the Far East for what will be Gatland’s last hurrah as head coach.
Following a 19-10 defeat by Ireland in Dublin last Saturday, the 31-man Wales squad and coaching and backroom team have been given a couple of days off before their departure for Japan.
When they arrive in the city of Kitakyushu later this week – where Wales will hold a training camp – they will be backed by remarkable local support.
Wales’ attention to detail for Japan has been thorough. The Welsh Rugby Union have being going back and forth to Japan for the past two years and have started a legacy programme in Kitakyushu.
The southern Japanese city was disappointed to not have been awarded any World Cup games, but Wales have embraced the people of Kitakyushu as their own.
They will train there when they arrive in Japan and their programme has even seen the city’s school children learning the Welsh national anthem.
The Kitakyushu fire engines have had Welsh flags painted on them and the players have even been given a cultural handbook to study to ensure they don’t offend their hosts.
On Monday, a video on Twitter emerged of more Kitakyushu locals singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.
Looking ahead to their first World Cups following the defeat to Ireland, flanker Aaron Wainwright and hooker Elliot Dee could not hide their excitement.
“We’re in a pretty good place. Even though we’ve lost three out of the four warm-up games, we’ve still got lots out of them and we’ve got stuff we haven’t shown yet,” said Wainwright.
“We’re going to be ready for the first game and we’re excited to see what the pool has to offer.
“I wouldn’t even have thought about the World Cup a year ago. It’s been a long journey and with all the pre-season work I’ve put in I feel fit and ready to go. If we have to put in some not so good performances it’s better to do that now than in Japan.
“That’s the main thing – the games when we get there.
“When we get on the plane we’ll be putting this all behind us and concentrating on our pool games. Georgia first up is massive.”
Wales open their World Cup bid against Georgia in Toyota on September 23 and hooker Dee added: “It was lovely to be named in the squad. I am just really looking forward to getting out there. We have got a great group of boys. We have played some good rugby over the last 18 months and we are really excited to get out there and show what we can do.
“We have talked about it for a long time now. It’s been a brilliant journey so far and we have got to go out there and perform now.
“This squad has shown what it can do over the last two years. Everyone works incredibly hard and we are looking to work as hard as we can and get as far as we can.”
Wales plan to embrace the cultural experience of Japan while doing everything in their power to be successful on the field.
On Monday it also emerged Japan’s Ogura Castle in the western part of Hiki providence of Saitama prefecture will be lit up in red to support Wales. “You must not eat food in the street, cross the road before the lights change, or show off your tattoos,” added Gatland. “We’ve done a lot of ground work in Japan and we want the players to enjoy the whole experience.”
Wales team manager Alan Phillips said: “All the planning for the World Cup is done. Our preparation has been spot on and there is no doubt about that.
“What I love about World Cups is that they are a level playing field.
“It’s not like a November period when you play a southern hemisphere touring team who have played seven or eight matches and you haven’t played any. It’s a big imbalance. World Cups are different and we will be super fit come the World Cup. We’ll be strong and we’ve got a good group. Once you get through the pool anything can happen in the knock-out stages.
“There’s absolutely no reason why Wales fans can’t dream, not with the squad we have.”