Gatland back for Wales' greatest challenge

 

Warren Gatland will rejoin the Wales squad this week – "I'm sure he'll be in bright and early Monday morning," Neil Jenkins, the skills coach and legend of the boot predicted – facing the greatest challenge of his career.

No one will give the New Zealander a prayer of inspiring a team smarting from home defeats by Argentina and Samoa in the past nine days, and beset by injuries to key men, to put one over the All Blacks in Cardiff on Saturday, with Australia to follow a week later. All Jenkins promised was "a lot of hard work" and that the Welsh players would be "seriously on edge, and very nervous of who they're playing. They'll need to be, otherwise we might come unstuck."

As Grand Slam champions, and after three close-run losses to Australia in the summer, Wales began the autumn vowing to climb the world rankings from sixth. After two strangely lacklustre defeats by teams below them in the standings under the interim head coach Rob Howley, while Gatland was away doing commercial and scouting business connected with his taking charge of next summer's Lions tour, they are now more concerned about avoiding the drop to ninth, which would bring a tougher draw for the 2015 World Cup.

"It's been difficult," Jenkins said. "We've got no excuses, we as coaches all worked hard, we all put the work in. Rob has obviously been doing a lot more than he normally would and it's quite tough. We've all had to chip in more. We take the accolades, we take the blame as well."

Both Howley, who will be in charge again during the Six Nations' Championship in February and March, and Jenkins know what it is to be mugged by Samoa. They were the half-backs and Howley was captain when the Samoans won 38-31 in Cardiff during the 1999 World Cup and ensured Wales would meet the champions to be, Australia, in the quarter-finals. The islanders' team who won 26-19 on Friday night are full of brutal tacklers and ballplayers, most of them employed by European clubs.

Wales do not look happy; their gigantic wide men are not seeing the ball, and overall they have lost the zip and attitude that is crucial to Gatland's gameplan. Two bulwarks of the breakdown and scrum, flanker Dan Lydiate and prop Adam Jones, are among the crocks. And there are other factors, such as players from French clubs missing the pre-autumn training in Poland.

So while it is simplistic to suggest Gatland's restoration will effect a turnaround – a full-strength Wales in their pomp would be second favourites against New Zealand – his speciality is flicking the right mental switches. "Gatland is an outstanding coach," said Jenkins, who has been with the national team since 2006, "one of the best in the world. Anyone would miss someone as good as Gats, someone of that calibre and understanding of the game, he knows something about everyone."

Asked whether Wales should attempt to ramp up the power on Saturday or introduce more variety, Jenkins pointed out that James Hook offered a playmaking alternative or adjunct to the becalmed Rhys Priestland, but said: "You're playing against the best side, who generally cope with what most opposition throw at them. We need balance: power, playing with our backs, a kicking game. We need to keep the ball for long periods, phase after phase, and make the All Blacks tackle. We're as shocked as anyone with how we're going. How do we start winning the collisions again? Maybe run harder?"

As the flanker Justin Tipuric put it: "The biggest thing is getting back on the training pitch and putting things right." Gatland, who would dearly love to put one over the All Blacks coach, Steve Hansen, will lead that. But Hansen has motivation of his own, having coached Wales through some tough times in 2002-03. He returns at the helm of the world champions, and will not go easy on his former charges.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game