WRU boss says Wales coach Warren Gatland ‘one of the best in the world’

Gatland inherited a squad that lost nine out of 12 Tests last year.

Andrew Baldock
Thursday 17 August 2023 19:18 BST
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has been backed by the WRU (David Davies/PA)
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has been backed by the WRU (David Davies/PA)

Warren Gatland has been backed to turn around Wales’ fortunes and lead them towards the 2027 Rugby World Cup.

Nigel Walker, the Welsh Rugby Union’s interim chief executive, hailed Gatland during a press conference unveiling of Abi Tierney as the organisation’s new chief executive – a post she will commence by the end of this year.

New Zealander Gatland is eight months into his second stint as Wales head coach after replacing Wayne Pivac and he is preparing for a fourth World Cup at the helm during September and October, having masterminded semi-final appearances in 2011 and 2019.

Wales finished fifth in the Guinness Six Nations last season, while Gatland inherited a squad that lost nine out of 12 Tests last year.

“The contract was a five-year contract. There is a clause (believed to be after the World Cup in France), but I cannot see any circumstances whereby we would invoke that clause,” Walker said.

“We feel we have one of the best coaches in the world, if not the best. I am confident Wales will do well in the World Cup.

“It’s a long-term project, and from what I’ve seen, Warren is quite capable of turning around the fortunes of Wales.”

Asked for his reaction to Walker’s comments, Gatland said: “I am just focusing on the short term.

“I have never been a person who thinks long-term too much in terms of my own personal situation. I am a great believer in what will be, will be.

We feel we have one of the best coaches in the world, if not the best

Nigel Walker

“I have already said that the work this group has done and strides we have made, I think we can do something pretty special at this World Cup, and I honestly believe that.

“If that happens, then those other things take care of themselves.”

Wales complete their World Cup warm-up schedule on Saturday by tackling South Africa, and they will be without British and Irish Lions Liam Williams and Dan Biggar.

Both players had been selected to start the game in Cardiff, but have been withdrawn as a precautionary measure.

The WRU said that full-back Williams has a tight hamstring, with Biggar suffering from back irritation.

Cai Evans is promoted from the replacements’ bench to make his Test debut as Williams’ replacement, while Sam Costelow takes over from fly-half Biggar.

Gatland added: “Both of them, if we pushed them hard, could play on Saturday, but the decision was made there is no point taking a risk at this stage.

“If this was a World Cup semi-final, Dan Biggar would have been fine for the weekend.”

Forwards Dewi Lake and Taine Plumtree, who were injured during Wales’ narrow defeat against England at Twickenham last weekend, are on course to be available for the World Cup opener against Fiji in Bordeaux on September 10.

Saturday’s clash in Cardiff is a last chance for players to impress Gatland, who will announce his 33-strong World Cup squad within 48 hours of the final whistle.

“There is an opportunity for players on Saturday. We will come back as a coaching group after the game and finalise the squad,” Gatland said.

“We are confident that those players carrying injuries are going to be available for the first game against Fiji.

“We will get a pretty detailed injury update in terms of all the players in the squad, the ones carrying knocks and when they can return to full-time training and when they are available.

“Potentially, there may be one or two decisions, which has happened in the past, where we are still undecided and we might sleep on it and make a final decision potentially on the Sunday.

“Then it’s a matter of notifying the players and announcing the squad on Monday.”

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