RWC 2015: Warren Gatland says playing Uruguay first puts Wales on the back foot

"You can’t dwell on those things and complain," said Gatland.

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The Independent Online

Wales have yet to kick a ball at this World Cup but their head coach Warren Gatland believes they are already at a disadvantage because they  must play Uruguay first.

Wales take on the minnows of Pool A at the Millennium Stadium tomorrow but, with bonus points and points difference potentially set to come into play in the tournament’s “pool of death”, Gatland argued it leaves his players on the back foot.

“I wouldn’t mind having them [Uruguay] last,” he said. “It’s not something we’re complaining about – it’s been drawn and we’ve been dealt that card. It puts us at disadvantage but you can’t dwell on those things and complain. We’ve known about this for a long time.”

Gatland drew parallels between Wales’ draw and this year’s Six Nations, which went down to the wire on a thrilling final day. Wales had the disadvantage of playing first in their final game against Italy, with title rivals Ireland and England kicking off later knowing what they had to do. The Welsh ended up third on points difference.

Gatland said: “I was asked at the end of the Six Nations if it was fair us playing Italy first and if it changed our approach and it probably did, but it was great for rugby. The draw is fine and we have to prepare for that. The focus is now very much on Sunday.”

Wales having previously suffered the double blow of Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb being ruled out of the World Cup, tomorrow will bring the expected return to action following lengthy  lay-offs of prop Samson Lee and full-back Liam Williams, who both underwent surgery earlier in the year.

Lee was given no more than a 50-50 chance of playing in the tournament at all after rupturing his Achilles during the Six Nations but he has been back in full contact training for three weeks and Gatland has no doubt over a player who also looks likely to start against England at Twickenham six days later.

Lee admitted he had two main targets when he was first injured – the second rather more unusual than the first. He explained: “My goal was first to get back playing and get back into ferreting after that. If I’m back playing then I can get out in the fields and catch a few rabbits. But the last thing I want is to slip in the field and rupture my Achilles again. I’m trying to keep off it.”

Williams takes Halfpenny’s place at full-back while there is a first start for Gareth Davies at scrum-half alongside his former Scarlets No 10 Rhys Priestland. In the back row, Gatland has switched captain Sam Warburton to No 6 to make room for Justin Tipuric in the No 7 jersey.

The Warburton-Tipuric partnership appears, for now, to be no more than a back-up option against England. Gatland is adamant tomorrow’s selections are not playing for their places against England as he has already settled on his first-choice side.

Warburton, rated by the coach as man of the match in the final warm-up game against Italy, is a guaranteed starter against England if fit. But he has  warned his team-mates and rivals to expect the unexpected in their pool.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s an upset in there,” Warburton said. “There’s some difficult turnarounds for some teams. I wouldn’t underestimate any team – Fiji are a different team from four years ago. They’re going to be a real threat in the group.

“I really don’t know what’s going to happen. It only takes one fixture to turn it on its head. It’s wide open going into the first weekend.”

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