Wales have missed Warren Gatland, says Shaun Edwards

Gatland retakes the reins from caretaker boss Rob Howley for the final two matches

Shaun Edwards believes Warren Gatland's absence has hit Wales hard as the head coach returns to take charge following demoralising defeats to Argentina and Samoa.

Wales had entered the autumn window in bullish mood having won the Six Nations Grand Slam and pushed Australia all the way during their three-Test series Down Under.

But any optimism has quickly vanished after abject displays against the Pumas and Samoans, which saw Wales booed from the Millennium Stadium field.

Gatland was not in charge for those fixtures as he made preparations for his task of leading the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia next summer.

But the Kiwi retakes the reins from caretaker boss Rob Howley for the final two matches against New Zealand and Australia.

Few are giving Wales any hope of upsetting the world champion All Blacks, who arrive in Cardiff unbeaten in 19 Tests over the last 15 months.

But assistant coach Edwards believes Gatland's return to a coaching staff also comprising Robin McBryde and Neil Jenkins, who was absent on Monday following the death of his father over the weekend, is just the stimulus Wales need ahead of Saturday's encounter.

Edwards said: "We haven't had a meeting as yet where Warren has had a chance to speak to the players but the five of us have been a good coaching team over the past five years.

"If the gaffer is missing then it's going to hit you hard and we are much better when there are five of us all together.

"I expect Warren to be his normal self. He gives us some words of wisdom there is no doubt about that, and as the build-up goes on to Saturday he will get more and more involved."

Wales have come in for heavy criticism following their autumn defeats, which extended their current losing sequence to five matches and puts them in grave danger of missing out on a top-eight seeding for next month's 2015 World Cup draw.

Former captain Gareth Thomas went as far as to suggest the defeat to Samoa was down to a "pure lack of effort".

But Edwards dismissed Thomas' comments.

He said: "If he can show me specifics of the game then I would look at it and decide, but I wouldn't agree with that.

"Personally I felt it was two teams that were pretty equally matched, as they were at the World Cup when we got the better of a one-score game, just like South Africa when they (Samoa) played them as the World Cup.

"On Friday Samoa were a little bit better than at the World Cup because they had the tighthead prop who plays for the champions of France (Toulouse forward Census Johnston) and they had the tighthead prop who plays for the champions of England (Harlequins' James Johnston).

"That's why they have improved while we have slightly come back a bit because of injuries.

"That's why they won a one-score game this time."

Wales have been cruelly hit by injuries during the autumn, with Adam Jones, Dan Lydiate, Alun Wyn Jones and Josh Turnbull all absentees.

Hooker Richard Hibbard is also unlikely to feature again during the series due to a shoulder injury, but Wales remain hopeful his Ospreys colleagues Dan Biggar (shoulder) and Ian Evans (knee) will play some part in the final two fixtures.

And there is good news in the form of centre Jonathan Davies and hooker Matthew Rees returning to training following their respective groin and calf complaints, with the pair set to be available for selection against the All Blacks.

Injuries aside, some of the blame for Wales' poor form has been laid at the door of the four professional regional teams, who collectively registered just one win from eight European games last month.

And Cardiff Blues' full-back Leigh Halfpenny admits the lack of a winning habit at regional level could be having an impact on the national side.

He said: "It maybe a factor. The Heineken Cup did not really go well for the regions, coming into the camp there wasn't any winning momentum.

"With the Blues we haven't won too many games so obviously the confidence is not there as a team as it used to be, and maybe that could be a factor.

"The habit of winning is not there at the moment and we are going to try and create that ourselves on Saturday."

PA

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