It would be easy to look back on the World Cup in a negative way and think about what could have been, but we’ve got to be positive. It’s more important to look at what we did achieve.
We came out of a tough group and finished fourth in the World Cup, we scored lots of tries and defended well. That’s more important than looking back at the sending-off (of Sam Warburton in the semi-final) and whether it was the right decision and thinking about what could have been. We were down for a couple of days, but you have to move on.
We’ve put a bit of pride back into Welsh rugby. A lot of people in Wales are proud of the way the team performed on and off the field, and we also came to New Zealand and earned respect. They respect us for the rugby we played and character we showed.
There’s a great blend in the group and the young guys are irrepressible. We now have the best mix of a team since I’ve been with Wales. There’s experience and youth, size, speed and agility, our set-piece has generally been good, and in seven games we only conceded seven tries. It’s all really encouraging and we’re trying to play positive rugby – that’s the type of rugby we want to play.
Gethin Jenkins really impressed me as an older statesman; he’s fantastic. Our young loose forward trio was outstanding and we found another quality ten in Rhys Priestland. He grabbed his chance with both hands and it’s a shame he wasn’t available for our last two games. His decision-making is great and it was almost easier for him being in New Zealand. In Wales there’s a daily debate about who should be selected, should the coaches do this or that. That can be hard for young players to deal with. In New Zealand he could slip under the radar.
It’s now time to start thinking about the future. Wales has a small player base so we’ve got to start thinking about what group of players will be here in 2015 and create strength in depth. Will I use the same process of the last four years? I’ll have to have a hard debate with myself about that because I’ve had a lot of criticism.
I’ve made changes to play Italy, Samoa and Fiji looking at the long term, and then been criticised about our points difference in the Six Nations or our performances not being good enough. I believe in my own convictions and I think the World Cup does vindicate what I’ve done, but do I want to go through it all again for the next four years? I probably will because I’m stubborn and it’s about getting a group who’ve got experience by 2015, but sometimes it’s not the easiest thing to cop the criticism.
The fact 62,000 people turned up to watch the semi-final on TV at the Millennium Stadium is unbelievable. The support we’ve had is phenomenal and it’s good to be able to play in front of them so soon with the Australia match on 3 December.
This article appeared in the December 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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