Ireland beware a Warren Gatland flattering to deceive

Wales coach complimentary across various topics, from playing structures in Irish rugby to success of the national team

On occasion, in the past, a Warren Gatland press conference ahead of a Test match against Ireland was best viewed from a comfy chair with a snack of choice, the audience salivating at the prospect of some salty, sharp-tongued observations.

In the land of the bland, the New Zealander was box office. The former Ireland coach knew how to play the game beautifully, part mischievous, part calculated to deflect and distract. It’s been a while though since he’s loosed those sorts of prematch soundbites and in the latest instalment, he was instead generous in his praise of Andy Farrell’s team. Beware!

Gatland was complimentary across a variety of topics from the playing structures in Irish rugby to the success the national team has enjoyed. He said: “I think they’ve just got the right structures in place. Probably if I look at the previous time I was here, we were kind of papering over the cracks of the things that were happening in Welsh rugby.

“We have got an opportunity for a reset, which unfortunately I’m not 100 per cent convinced we’ll have a proper reset within our regions. It’s probably felt sometimes like you’re in a sinking ship and you’re trying to plug the holes a little bit.


“The thing with Ireland, they look like they’ve got their structures right. The only way we are going to do it as a group is if we work together and we support each other. Everyone talks about the finances, and I understand that but it’s making the right decisions.

“Is more money going to go on buying players or is the extra money going to be on fixing up the infrastructure, the facilities and quality people in your backroom team, coaching, medical and S&C?”

He acknowledged that Wales face their biggest test to date in the tournament at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon. “It’s going to be. They’re a settled team. They’re world-class. It’s a big challenge for us. We’re excited for it. Being underdogs isn’t motivation for us. The motivation for us is the pressure we put on ourselves to get better. I couldn’t ask more from the players this week in terms of training.

“They’re just comfortable when they’ve got the ball. They’ve got the ability to keep it for multi-phases. That really stresses you. That’s when they’re incredibly dangerous. They’ve got some key individuals and we’ve got to unsettle them.

“We’ve spoken all week about having no fear of going there. Daf Jenkins spoke about going into that first game with a little bit too much respect for Scotland. We saw an improvement up at Twickenham. There’s learning from that on how you manage close games. England’s kicking game was excellent.

“We probably don’t have the experience to manage those situations. Ireland are one of the best teams in the world. You’ve got to embrace that challenge and be excited for it. That’s part of our growth.”

Gatland made one change to the starting team that lost narrowly to England at Twickenham, recalling Sam Costelow. The outhalf had a torrid time before going off injured against Scotland and missed the trip to London. He replaces Ioan Lloyd and has been challenged by his head coach to better manage the nerves that affected him against the Scots.

“It was a tough call,” said Gatland. “We were pretty happy with Ioan’s development at 10. Things didn’t go as well for Sam in the first half against Scotland. He’s someone we’ve been working closely with.

“At the World Cup [in France], it was easy for him [Costelow], having some experienced 10s in front of him. I think it dawned on him before Scotland that he’s Wales’s number 10. He was pretty nervous for that one.

“It’s how you look at it. We’ve had two defeats, but we could have had two close wins as well. That’s where we are as a team. We’re aware we’ve got a huge amount of growth in us. We’ve made that decision [to stick with young players] because we feel there’s a chance to develop this team over the next few years.”

Ireland are next to provide a benchmark in terms of the evolution of this young Welsh team and how they fare will help with the orientation process of personnel and style going forward.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer