Wales coach Warren Gatland’s column in the March issue of Rugby World Magazine: “Sitting in the coaching box last year there were times I was pulling my hair out. There were games we should have won, but we gave away a yellow card, threw an intercept or conceded an unnecessary three points. It’s frustrating and as a team we need to improve.
“Having the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, Shane Williams, Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies back from injury, and Morgan Stoddart back in the squad, gives us a lot more real quality players in attack. Morgan’s been unlucky with injuries and has things to work on defensively, but in attack he’s incredibly exciting. He’s strong, powerful and quick.
We created a lot of chances in the autumn, but we need to finish those off. We’re going to hammer home the basics in training with three-on-twos and so on. We need to keep our width because we were a bit lateral and didn’t run straight enough in the autumn. The potential’s there – we just need to be more clinical.
A focus for this campaign is to encourage the players to put their hands up and be honest about their performances and mistakes. Ideally we want players to not be afraid of being critical of their team-mates and them not to take it personally, but it doesn’t sit that comfortably with this Welsh squad. There’s nothing greater and more powerful than peer pressure, and we want to create as honest an environment as we can.
There’s a few new faces in the squad. Rhys Priestland is a different type of ten and has impressed us with the way he’s played this season. He’s got a big boot on him and is a genuine running threat; he stands nice and wide from the nine and takes on opposition defences. The No 7 position is one of the most important in the game at the moment, particularly if you look at how destructive guys like David Pocock and Richie McCaw are at the breakdown and how many turnovers they get.
We’re very pleased with the way Sam Warburton’s developing but in the past he’s had injury problems and we want to make sure we’ve got options at seven. So we want to look at Josh Turnbull – but it doesn’t count Martyn Williams out of the World Cup.
We’ve picked Ryan Jones as a lock because that’s primarily where he’s played this season and he gives us mobility having played in the back row. He’s been working hard and playing well, though I’d like to see him put on more size. We considered Luke Charteris, and Ian Evans isn’t out of our thoughts, but we feel Alun Wyn Jones and Bradley Davies are head and shoulders above in Wales given their size, physicality and mobility.
Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones are huge losses, but it’s a great opportunity for the five props selected to make their mark over the next eight weeks and impress the coaches. When I coached Ireland, everyone used to talk about England and France going for the Grand Slam, but the other countries are coming into the tournament now, which is great. Every team is capable of beating everyone else and that makes it really exciting.
I definitely think we can win it, but the first game is crucial for us. We need to get off to a good start at home against England.
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