Warren Gatland has raised doubts over his future as Wales head coach after the World Cup following the decision by Roger Lewis to step down as chief executive of the Wales Rugby Union.
It was Lewis who brought Gatland into the role in 2007 a year into Lewis’s tenure as WRU chief executive, sparking one of the most successful periods in Wales rugby, with three Six Nations titles and a World Cup semi-final spot.
And Gatland, who at the end of 2013 signed a new contract to remain in his post until 2019, admitted Lewis’s decision to step down after the World Cup later this year would have a bearing on his own future in the role.
“Often those decisions aren’t in your hands, are they?” he said of his own position after the tournament. “I have signed until 2019 and I have made my commitment to Welsh rugby for that.
“You hope that can continue but professional sport is all about performance, it is all about results and sometimes it is about other people making decisions for you.”
Wales have enjoyed a lengthy period of stability under Lewis and Gatland, the longest serving coach in top-tier international rugby, but much now rests on the dual issue of Lewis’s successor as chief executive and how Wales fare both for the remainder of the Six Nations and the World Cup later this year.
Gatland’s next chance to make his mark comes on Saturday against France in Paris. In recent weeks, there had been accusations of a predictability to his selections both in the autumn internationals and also for this tournament.
But the New Zealander sprung a surprise with four changes from the side that beat Scotland 10 days ago in Edinburgh. Arguably the most eye-catching decision is the return of George North at the expense of Alex Cuthbert. The wing was rested for the game against Scotland as a precaution following his concussion against England.
As for Cuthbert, his absence from the starting XV comes just days after a video clip emerged of him appearing to throw away the mobile phone of a member of the public.
Gatland, though, was adamant the incident had no bearing on his match-day squad: “Those sorts of decisions don’t come into deciding to pick or drop a player, especially for a player that wasn’t involved in the squad with us at that time.”
Liam Williams keeps his place, a reward for a series of impressive displays and also a wake-up call for Cuthbert, who, Gatland admitted, was lacking his potency of old.
“We’re expecting some reaction from him,” said the Wales coach. “He’s not quite as sharp as he was in the summer when the South Africans struggled to handle him. Alex was bursting through tackles and bumping players off. We’re trying to get him back to that sharpness. He’s aware of that and I think he will respond accordingly.”
Of the other changes, experienced hooker Richard Hibbard loses out to Scott Baldwin, who was unlucky not to keep his place for the opening two games after an excellent showing in the autumn victory over South Africa.
In the second row, Jake Ball drops out of the squad altogether as Racing Métro’s Luke Charteris slots in alongside Alun Wyn Jones. Bradley Davies takes Ball’s place on the bench, with Gatland wanting to give both game time during the tournament, rather than a reflection on how Ball has played. The final change sees tight-head prop Samson Lee return from concussion.Reuse content