Six Nations 2014: Warren Gatland accentuates the positives as Wales fail to rewrite history despite Scotland thrashing

 

This Six Nations was supposed to be the moment Wales wrote a new chapter in the annals of rugby history. Warren Gatland had encouraged his players on the eve of the tournament to talk about the potential to take their place in the record books by becoming the first team to win three consecutive Six Nations titles.

Instead, Wales were the best of the also-rans behind Ireland, the champions, and England. Saturday’s annihilation of 14-man Scotland left both players and coaching staff scratching their heads and wondering what might have been.

The 51-3 victory over Scotland ended their campaign in a carnival atmosphere at the Millennium Stadium, but it masked the poor displays away from home against Ireland and England. There is now a summer tour to South Africa to ponder and, more importantly, the World Cup next year.

However, Gatland insisted there was every reason to be positive looking towards the future. “We’ve done reasonably well in this competition,” he said. “The media put a lot of pressure on us, but in the last three years we’ve won 12 out of 15 [Six Nations] games. I don’t think that’s a bad record in this competition for a small country like Wales with such a small playing base.

“We’re pretty happy with where we are at the moment but there’s no one harder than we are on ourselves in terms of being critical, be it coaches or players, because we want to keep working and improving as a side.

“We’ve got a big tour of South Africa. We probably dropped off a little bit and that’s understandable. A few of our players weren’t where they were 12 months ago in terms of fitness.

“But what’s pleasing about this group of players is the way they can respond and change. If something doesn’t work out for them, I like to think they can respond positively with a performance next time.”

After both the Ireland and England defeats, Gatland had called for a big performance from his players, and they delivered on both occasions, ending the tournament with a confidence-boosting drubbing of the Scots.

But Gatland will be without arguably his two most influential players in South Africa. Leigh Halfpenny dislocated his shoulder against England and, following surgery, has confirmed he will take no part in the summer tour. Sam Warburton sustained a similar injury and the Wales captain is also expected to be missing.

Gatland, though, now has a selection headache to solve over his first-choice fly-half. Dan Biggar started against Scotland, having played understudy to Rhys Priestland for much of the Six Nations. However, Biggar’s superior spot-kicking arguably increases his prospects, with full-back Halfpenny out injured.

Biggar said: “It’s a shame that those two away performances meant we couldn’t have something to play for against Scotland. Personally, though, I think I did OK; I wouldn’t say any more than that.”

Wales: Tries L Williams, North 2, Roberts 2, Faletau, R Williams; Conversions Biggar 4, Hook; Penalties Biggar 2. Scotland: Penalty: Laidlaw.

Wales L Williams; Cuthbert, Davies, Roberts, North; Biggar, M Phillips; Jenkins, Owens, R Jones, Charteris, A Jones, Lydiate, Warburton, Faletau. Replacements Hook for L Williams, 63;, Priestland for Biggar, 63; R Williams for M Phillips, 55; James for Jenkins, 58; Hibbard for Owens,58; A Jones for R Jones,58; Ball for Charteris, 63; Tipuric for Lydiate, 55.

Scotland: Hogg; Fife, Dunbar, Scott, Evans; Weir, Laidlaw; Grant, Lawson, Cross, R Gray, Hamilton, Wilson, Brown, Denton Replacements Taylor for Fife, 67; Cusiter for Laidlaw, 62; Dickinson for Grant, 46; Ford for Lawson, 46; Swinson for Hamilton, 55; Strokosch for Brown, 9.

Referee J Garces (France).

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