Wales coach Warren Gatland has declared his players will be given a licence to thrill against the Barbarians their first World Cup warm-up match at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday 4th June (Kick-off 2.30pm).
Gatland and his coaching team will name a 24-man squad early next week and he has left no ambiguity in publicly announcing the way he wants them to play against the Baa-Baas in the WRU’s 130th anniversary fixture.
“We want the players to be looking at all the options. That means potentially moving the ball from inside your own 22 from kick off, looking to counter attack a bit more, keep the ball alive, some offloads, play rugby and take some risks and not be too conservative,” said Gatland.
“Potentially there will be a lot of running and, hopefully, a lot of rugby played. For us it’s an opportunity with this game, and the three other matches ahead of the World , to look at some combinations, but I think this run of fixtures gives us a chance to take some risks as well.”
Gatland also admits his squad will see some changes from that which finished the RBS 6 Nations tournament against France in March, as he assesses his options before increasing its size again ahead of the two training camps in Poland in July and fixtures against England and Argentina in August.
“We have four or five players not available for the Barbarians game with injuries, but there are some youngsters playing really well at the moment,” said Gatland.
“We’ve looked at that and the stand out player I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks is Toby Faletau. The last two games I’ve watched at Rodney Parade against the Ospreys and the Blues I thought he really came into his own.
“He is one of the youngsters who has a good chance of being in the squad and so hopefully that gives a good indication of how we want to play. I know we have been criticised for being conservative, but that’s definitely not the way we like to play and like to coach.
“I can tell you now we encourage the players to go out there and play, to make the right decision, to play heads up rugby. The message will be that, if you think the opportunity is on to run the ball from behind your own goal line, because there is a three man overlap, then go for it.
“For the Barbarians game in particular we want to go out there and play some rugby – be smart and take some risks. But, by being smart, that means still playing what’s in front of you – take risks but still look to make the right decision.”
Gatland has also revealed some of the criteria he will be using to fine-tune selection for his eventual 30-man World Cup squad, and he has left the door open to reward players who are showing form now rather than selecting on reputation.
“The weather conditions have changed in Wales, what we have at the moment will be fairly similar in New Zealand in September. The grounds are a bit harder and it gives the opportunity more footwork to potentially come into play,” said Gatland.
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“The air’s not quite so heavy, even though we play in the January/February time in the Millennium Stadium with the roof closed, the ground is still slippery and we are playing in a fairly moist atmosphere.
“I’m looking at players at the moment in terms of player’s showing mobility and their footwork, potentially trying to compare the conditions that are going to be in NZ and what sort of player is going to be able to make an impact there.”