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Bowe brims with belief

TOMMY BOWE insists Ireland have the belief to make history by reaching the World Cup semi-finals for the first time.

The Irish have never progressed beyond the last eight of the competition and on two occasions - in 1999 and 2007 - failed to progress that far.

But they have taken this year's tournament by storm, winning their pool with magnificent victories over Australia and Italy to set up a potentially thrilling contest with Wales.

Followed across New Zealand by a 25,000-strong army of travelling fans and with a great team spirit, the stage is set for Ireland to break new ground.

"We've been happy with the way the four games have gone," said Bowe.

Definitely

"We know how well Wales are playing, they're definitely one of the form teams at the World Cup.

"It's going to be difficult but this is a chance to create history for Ireland.

"There's a huge amount of self-belief in the team. We have a great blend of youth and experience.

"A lot of the players have been in cup competitions and this is an exciting time for Irish rugby.

"This team is in as strong a position as we've ever had. We've got some world-class players.

"In the past, we've always been strong going into the World Cup but failed playing against some of the top teams. This time we've beaten Australia and Italy."

The Six Nations rivals collide at Wellington Regional Stadium on Saturday, but Bowe has revealed anxiety levels are already rising.

"The players' nerves are obviously heightened at this stage of the competition," said the Lions winger.

"It's obviously still early in the week but we know what's at stake. This is certainly the biggest match I've ever played in.

"Wales are always a great enemy for Ireland and we've had some great games before."

Three years at Welsh region the Ospreys means Bowe is on good terms with many of his quarter-final adversaries.

"I always enjoy coming up against the Welsh fellas who I know very well. It adds an extra bit of spice for me," he said.

"But we're well used to coming up against Welsh opposition.

"For the guys who have toured with the Lions, there's great camaraderie between the nations. It will be a great little battle.

"I went to the cinema last night and bumped into a few of the Ospreys players.

"That was the first time I've caught up with them and it was nice to have a chat.

"They're friends at the end of the day, so it was just friendly banter, but when we get out on the pitch it will be a different story."

Meanwhile, Shaun Edwards has hailed Wales' defensive effort against Fiji that helped them cruise into the World Cup quarter-finals.

Wales' 66-0 Pool D victory was the first time in seven years -- since beating Japan 98-0 -- they have enforced a shut-out on their opponents.

Attitude

And having conceded just one try in defeating Namibia 81-7 six days previously, it means Wales will head into Saturday's clash against Ireland high on confidence about their defensive structure.

"I was pleased with the lads because of their attitude, really," Wales assistant coach and defence specialist Edwards said. "The lads were really disappointed that we didn't get a nil against Namibia.

"It's very unusual to get a zero nowadays in rugby. To get a zero you have to shoot out to a quite convincing first-half lead otherwise people go for penalties.

"Fiji battled on to the end and did their best, but our line held strong until the end of the game."

Wales have not reached the tournament's penultimate knockout stage since 1987.

"It is a moment in time you have to seize," Edwards added.

"Both teams will be giving 100pc to try to make sure they are not the team who are packing their bags next Monday."

Wales have received a major boost with three key players passed fit to resume full training.

Full-back James Hook, wing Shane Williams and flanker Dan Lydiate are all expected to be available for Saturday.

They will take part in training tomorrow, giving Wales coach Warren Gatland a full squad of 30 from which to select his starting line-up.

"Dan, James and Shane have all been passed fit to train tomorrow," said Prav Mathema, the Welsh Rugby Union's national medical performance manager. "Pending any adverse reaction, we expect them all to be available for selection against Ireland.

"Gethin Jenkins and Sam Warburton are also both fit for selection following calf cramp experienced during the end of the Fiji fixture."

Edwards added: "I think we are looking pretty healthy, probably the healthiest we've been going into this week. It is very promising in that area."