Gatland wants to turn Waikato into Wales

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Warren Gatland plans to convert Waikato into a Welsh invasion of support for next year's World Cup. The Wales coach returns to his home town of Hamilton for the second Test against the All Blacks next Saturday.

The Waikato Stadium is also the venue for two World Cup 2011 crunch Pool D matches for Wales against Fiji and Samoa in 15 months' time.

Both the South Sea Islanders already have strong communities in New Zealand's north island and will outnumber the visiting fans, while Wales know that their hopes of progressing to the knock-out stages are destined to come down to their results in Hamilton.

Gatland believes a charm offensive over the next seven days to drum up native backing can give them a vital psychological edge over their Pool D opponents. Gatland said: "I'm excited for next week and looking forward to catching up with some friends when I go around the local schools, organise a few training sessions and hand out jerseys and T-shirts to try and get the Waikato public behind us.

"We have a couple of games in Hamilton next year and we want the region's support to make sure they get behind us at the World Cup. A lot of people want Wales to do well but in the long term we will be preparing in Hamilton for what will be two really important games at the World Cup. I hope next week will have a positive impact for us."

Gatland made an emotional return to his native New Zealand with a rugby team for the first time in Dunedin yesterday. And all eyes will be on the Kiwi, who made 140 appearances for Waikato, when he makes his official homecoming.

But Gatland insists he does not want a fuss. He said: "Ideally I don't want next week to be about me. But if you do make a few comments then everyone builds up the coach or he can try and take the pressure off the players in terms of expectations.

"But I want the game to be about two international teams. It's a big honour to be back in New Zealand and I do feel proud every time I'm involved in an international match. It's the ultimate experience of playing at that intensity in front of big houses but I don't feel special.

"All in all, the trip is all about familiarity and hopefully that will make the week in Hamilton easier in terms of preparing and understanding the training venues and places we are going to. It will help the players fit in. I've also had a few friends ringing me and my wife has brought about 70 tickets for friends and family.

"My mum and dad will be there and my wife's family, as well as lots of friends. I'm just trying to convince a few of them to cheer for Wales. That's the challenge for me."

The final Test match at Carisbrook after 102 years of history was the third leg of Wales' tour of New Zealand following a brief visit in Auckland and a productive stay in Wellington.

The Kiwi capital is the venue for the World Cup opener against the world champions South Africa on 11 September. And Gatland has given his thumbs-up to the preparations which have acted as a dress rehearsal for the global event. "The hospitality has been excellent, I've been happy with our hotel arrangements and the way we've been looked after. We trained at the Westpac Stadium which was something they don't normally do for teams. It was good to have the chance to experience the pitch because that is where our first game against South Africa will be at the World Cup."