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.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US