Gatland wants Wales to raise a closed roof
Warren Gatland doesn't want anything raining on Wales's Grand Slam parade – least of all the rain. With comments which may incense Philippe Saint-André, he all but accused the French coach of being negative and called for the authorities to take away the right of visiting teams to keep the Millennium Stadium roof open.
As he named an expected XV to try for a third Six Nations sweep in eight seasons, Gatland made no secret of his distaste for Saint-André's preference for tomorrow's match. It is the first time France have ever made such a request.
"It'll be OK if it's a nice day, won't it?" said Gatland, aware that the French also knew that the forecast is for the opposite. "I would hate to think that it will be pouring down and that we had the chance to close the roof. Potentially, it makes a game less open or less attractive... We all have a responsibility not just to broadcasters but to the public and the game as a whole to make it as attractive as possible."
The current Six Nations arrangement is that both teams have to be in agreement for the roof to be closed. If one team wants it open, so it is. Gatland wants this changed.
"I think it is something that maybe as a Welsh Union we need to make some sort of representation to the IRB. If it is our stadium and we've got the ability to open and close the roof, then maybe we should be the team that decides it."
He then lightened the mood with a wisecrack. "I do hope we don't close the roof on Friday night and then it breaks down on Saturday and we can't open it."
Gatland pointed to Saint-André's selection as evidence of his intention. The former Gloucester and Sale coach made five changes plus one positional switch, to the wing for the centre Wesley Fofana.
"I just think they've picked a very old, tough forward pack," he said. "They are going to come and be very, very physical. It's not going to be pretty.
"Having coached against Philippe in the past in the Premiership, he is relatively conservative. He is very pragmatic in terms of set pieces and big physical players. I don't think he will care too much about what type of rugby they play – his whole focus is trying to win the match."
Mike Phillips, the scrum-half who plays for Bayonne, concurred. "They kick the ball a lot tactically anyway," he said. "But maybe they are fearful of our attacking threat."
Wales have scored nine tries – all by the back line. A firm surface would suit their style as they target a second Grand Slam of Gatland's four-year reign. With Ladbrokes quoting Wales at 1-200 to win the Six Nations title the focus must clearly be on the win and not on the table. France have won five Six Nations matches in Cardiff and lost once.
"France are a good side, one of the top teams in the world," said Gatland, who made only one alteration to his side, reinstating his fit-again captain, Sam Warburton. "We've had a couple of close games against them and have contributed to our own downfall with a couple of interception tries, a couple of yellow cards, a turnover and a charge-down. So we know we have to be accurate. Yet France can't win the championship and there's a lot more for us to play for mentally. Maybe that will be the difference.
"It's not easy to win Grand Slams," he added. "If you think how dominant England have been since the start of professionalism – and they only won one Grand Slam, in 2003. That shows how difficult it is. But we've given ourselves an opportunity for three players in the squad [Gethink Jenkins, Adam Jones and Ryan Jones] to be a part of three Grand Slam winning teams. And that would be fantastic achievement."
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