Gatland keeps Wales outside comfort zone

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The Independent Online

If Warren Gatland's dropping of three players following last Saturday's victory at Twickenham hinted to the Wales team there would be no hiding place in the new era, then yesterday the coach they have already dubbed Mr Ruthless confirmed it in the most literal of fashions.

The official line for Wales' switch of dressing rooms this afternoon for Gatland's first home game in charge was that, in his own words: "The other one's got a nice ambience about it." But if this instantly cast images of relaxation and tranquillity into the minds of Ryan Jones and Co they were sadly mistaken.

Gatland has apparently ordered the hasty move across the corridor because of the respective layouts. In the old dressing room it is understood there were places where the players could be tempted to slip out of the coach's sight during the half-time talk.

In the visitors' he can see everyone – wherever they choose to sit. If anyone in red fancies avoiding Gatland's gaze at around 2.50pm today, then they had better start tunnelling.

Actually, that may not seem such a bad idea if Wales produce the sort of turnover-prone first half that should have seen them dead and buried against England seven days ago. Gatland and his veritable sergeant major, Shaun Edwards, have placed the focus this week squarely on what went wrong – and left the squad under no illusions as to what is expected of them today. Whatever else comes to pass today, Wales are as likely to lose because of complacency as they are due to Scotland suddenly learning to play like Buck Shelford's All Blacks.

Gatland said yesterday: "There's a lot of pressure accepting favouritism, the expectations of the public, the press, the fans and everyone else – the players are pretty aware of that. There was no pressure last week, no expectation. But a poor performance here undoes all the good that was achieved at Twickenham. We are playing against a team that are a bit like a wounded animal, with their backs to the wall after they lost to France. We've spoken a lot about that."

"Wounded" was the right, if unwitting, adjective to describe Scotland. Yesterday following their morning training session at Murrayfield, Gatland's opposite number, Frank Hadden, was forced to juggle when the wing Simon Webster went down with a hamstring injury. Chris Paterson moves across from full-back, while Hugo Southwell is upgraded from bench duties to become the last line of defence. Simon Danielli fills the gap among the replacements.

Whether or not this weakens Hadden's hand tremendously is debatable, and even with the full complement it would be hard to imagine a repeat of last year's 21-9 scoreline, especially if Wales can begin to produce something like their second-half form of the opening weekend.

Scotland may have stacked up well in the scrums against France early on, and could well be justified in believing that they will hold sway in that set piece here, but in every other facet – bar Paterson's boot – they appear to fall some distance short.

Most glaringly, the midfield battle of Gavin Henson and Tom Shanklin versus Andy Henderson and Nick De Luca appears one-sided. The reinstated Shanklin, in particular, must be licking his lips at the prospect of running at the young centre De Luca, who had a debut to wake-up screaming about last Sunday. Those lips should only moisten further when Shanklin considers the paucity of Scotland's attacking threat. Hadden has been making all the correct noises concerning Wales' new rushing style of defence – "there are certain things you can do to counter that" – although if they get it right, Gatland has few worries.

"If we defend as well as we did last week on phase play, I'll be more than happy," said Gatland, who will remember that it was a shambolic defeat against Scotland in 2001 which earned him the sack from Ireland. "I think we were at something like 80 per cent in tackle percentage last week. What was poor about our game was some of our execution of kicks early on, and we didn't chase well enough in terms of England putting us under pressure from counter-attacks.

"Rugby is about making your tackles and that's something Shaun has been working hard on this week."

"Hard" does not begin to describe it.

Today's Millennium teams


15 L Byrne (Ospreys)

14 J Roberts (Cardiff)

13 T Shanklin (Cardiff)

12 G Henson (Ospreys)

11 S Williams (Ospreys)

10 J Hook (Ospreys)

9 M Phillips (Ospreys)

1 D Jones (Ospreys)

2 H Bennett (Ospreys)

3 A Jones (Ospreys)

4 I Gough(Ospreys)

5 I Evans (Ospreys)

6 J Thomas (Ospreys)

7 M Williams (Cardiff)

8 R Jones (Ospreys, capt)

Replacements: 16 M Rees (Llanelli), 17 G enkins (Cardiff), 18 D Jones (Cardiff), 19 G Delve (Gloucester), 20 D Peel (Llanelli), 21 S Jones (Llanelli), 22 S Parker (Ospreys).


15 H Southwell (Edinburgh)

14 N Walker (Ospreys)

13 N De Luca (Edinburgh)

12 A Henderson (Glasgow)

11 C Paterson (Gloucester)

10 D Parks (Glasgow)

9 M Blair (Edinburgh)

1 A Jacobsen (Edinburgh)

2 R Ford (Edinburgh)

3 E Murray (Northampton)

4 N Hines (Perpignan)

5 J Hamilton (Leicester)

6 J White (Sale, capt)

7 J Barclay (Glasgow)

8 K Brown (Glasgow)

Replacements: 16 F Thomson (Glasgow), 17 G Kerr (Edinburgh), 18 S MacLeod (Llanelli Scarlets), 19 A Hogg (Edinburgh), 20 C Cusiter (Perpignan), 21 G Morrison (Glasgow), 22 S Danielli (Ulster).

Referee: B Lawrence (NZ)

Kick-off: 2pm (BBC 1)