Everyone in Wales is getting to know Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards a little better with every passing week, and it is fascinating to follow. After two wins in his first two matches, Warren has made six changes in the team to face Italy next Saturday, and though some of them arehorses for courses, in doing so he has stamped his authority on the whole squad. There has been a comfort zone which Warren and Shaun are trying to get the Wales players out of, and I say amen to that.
Warren said he was surprised at the depth of talent in Wales. I could have told him there has always been raw talent here. But I do not deny there has been a soft culture and a lack of com-petition for places; a lack of pride, even. There has been player power, too.
Now all of that has been taken out. There is no comfort zone in training, because it's competitive. Training is short, sharp and intense. There's no comfort zone during matches, because any mistake is highlighted and explained and then – maybe – you get dropped.
Above all, the thing I have been really impressed with during Warren's short time in Wales is that the bullshit is gone. He is honest in his gameplan, honest in his selections and honest in his substitutions during a match. In Wales there are always Chinese whispers and "I heard this on the grapevine", but that doesn't happen now because the coach is bluntly honest and it's all out there.
This is not a climate of fear; it is a climate of respect and ofself-respect. Warren asks players to have pride in their own ability, and I hope it will filter down to the regions too, so that regardless of who he is playing against each week, the mainthing for a player is to sustain his performance in every game. Irrespective of whether it's Leinster or Saracens, Connacht or an Italian side in Europe, you are playing against yourself, pushing yourself as a player. You are raising the bar all the time.
I played rugby league with Edwards a couple of times for Great Britain and shared a room with him during a home series against New Zealand. He's a winner, he's mentally tough and everywhere he has been before, he has found that mental toughness. In Wales, there israw talent and there is skill, but the mental toughness needs working at.
So here we have James Hook dropped to the bench for the Italy match, with Stephen Jones back in at fly-half. Someone asked me if I ever got dropped by Wales, and I did not in my original spell in the team, plus of course tactical substitutions didn't crop up in those days. But when I started in rugby league with Widnes, I was on the bench or on the wing, and Dougie Laughton, the coach, would explain the reasons when I asked him why – which I always did.
It was the same when I played under Chris Anderson at the Bulldogs in Sydney. As a player you might not agree with the reasons but at least you know them, and then it's up to you what you do about it.
So if I was James Hook I would have asked Warren why I was brought off against Scotland, and why I'm not playing in this next game. All behind closed doors, of course. And I bet a pound to a penny that James is thinking: "I'd better work on showing the coach I can control the game... and maybe next time I won't get pulled off."
It will be a big physical challenge against Italy, and maybe Warren will chuck James on and he'll cut the Italians to pieces. Whatever the case, Gatland is creating this environment where nobody is safe. Win or lose, I think Warren would have made these changes. It just so happens he's had a pretty good start.Reuse content