Gatland slams standard of Premiership

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The Independent Online

Wales boss Warren Gatland has condemned the standard of this season's Guinness Premiership.

Gatland's 29-man squad for the autumn Tests contains a solitary player - Sale Sharks scrum-half Dwayne Peel - who plies his trade in England.

And New Zealander Gatland, a Premiership title winner when he coached Wasps, has pulled no punches following a succession of poor games during the season's first six rounds.

"I think the Guinness Premiership, having watched the games, is the weakest Premiership I've seen since I have been up here (in the United Kingdom)," he said.

"It is the weakest in terms of the quality of the teams involved.

"Look at Gloucester. When I was at Wasps you would go down there and know you were going to have a really tough, physical match up front.

"I couldn't believe they just weren't competitive against Wasps on Saturday (Gloucester lost 35-6 at home).

"When the Premiership is strong, it's a good gauge of how players are likely to perform at international level."

Although Peel features in Gatland's group for the November schedule, he is currently unavailable to face New Zealand in Cardiff on November 7.

Because the All Blacks game falls outside the recognised International Rugby Board autumn Test window, Sale are under no obligation to release him.

And Peel's probable absence takes on added significance given that Ospreys number nine Mike Phillips is sidelined for around 12 weeks with a serious ankle injury.

Gatland added: "At this stage Dwayne is not available for the All Blacks game.

"I spoke to him yesterday and he is desperately keen to be involved against New Zealand. He is pretty frustrated by the situation.

"If Sale decide to release him, or Premier Rugby, then there is a possibility he might be part of the 22 for the All Blacks game.

"The sad thing about it is it's the player who is really being affected. I would go out of my way to make sure a player was released.

"Playing international rugby is the pinnacle of any player's career."

Peel was widely expected to be joined in the Wales squad by his Sale colleague, prop Eifion Lewis Roberts, especially as Adam Jones and John Yapp are currently unavailable because of injuries.

But Gatland has opted not to include the 21-stone tighthead, admitting: "We have a concern about Eifion.

"We've told him that to play at international level he still needs to get a bit fitter and drop a bit of weight.

"A player starting in the Premiership, there is no guarantee he should be selected for Wales. We are conscious he has got some potential and could come into the side in the future.

"But, as a player, if he wants to be involved in international rugby there is some work to do on his mobility and fitness. He is well aware of that."

Gatland could conceivably switch Gethin Jenkins from loosehead to tighthead against New Zealand, having seen both Jenkins and flanker Martyn Williams return to fitness ahead of schedule following post-Lions tour operations.

"It is a decision we need to make whether you move the best loosehead in the world to tighthead, or not," said Gatland.

"The great thing about Gethin is he has no fear about putting the number three jersey on.

"He just says 'Give me the jersey, I will do the job.' That's the sort of attitude he has as a player. Whether it is number one or number three, he will do a great job."

Wales have not beaten New Zealand since 1953, but they threatened to do so last term, leading the All Blacks at half-time in Cardiff before ultimately being outgunned.

And Gatland believes it is vital his players use the best bits of that performance to underpin their latest All Blacks mission.

"For us it's trying to really build on the confidence gained from the first 40-50 minutes against them last year," he said.

"We could quite easily have gone 16-3 up at half-time in that game.

"It provides belief and confidence that when we do perform at our optimum, we are capable of pushing them and putting them under pressure.

"They are always difficult to play against but you have got to go in there believing that if we do perform, we've got a chance of winning."