Gatland in positive mood ahead of France clash with full-strength side available
Coach determined to achieve more success in what is his last campaign after 11 trophy-laden years
Wales coach Warren Gatland: The message we’ve been driving into the players is you’ve got two choices: we are either going home on Monday or we are here until the end of the tournament. Photograph: Getty Images
Rugby World Cup quarter-final: Wales v France, Oita Stadium, Sunday, 8.15am Irish time. Live: RTÉ2, Eir Sport 1, UTV. How to follow: The Irish Times liveblog will begin at 8.0am.
Asked to select his best and worst matches against France yesterday, Warren Gatland immediately picked out the 2011 World Cup semi-final defeat as a moment to forget. He struggled to find a positive memory.
After leaning over to his captain, Alun Wyn Jones, for guidance, Gatland received a whisper in his ear from the secondrow. “This Sunday,” the New Zealander laughed before exiting stage left. Gatland is in positive mood before the quarter-final given he could select a full-strength side after four consecutive wins in the pool stage.
He is determined to achieve more success in what is his last campaign after 11 trophy-laden years. He even took time out to scald Eddie Jones for what he deemed to be insensitive comments from the England coach before their match with Australia today. “It’s do-or-die time,” Jones had said. “Every time the samurais fought, one lived and one died. It will be the same on Saturday – someone is going to live and someone is going to die.”
Gatland felt Jones’s comments overstepped the mark after the World Cup was hit by Typhoon Hagibis last week. The storm has claimed the lives of 80 people and more are expected. Jones also said, “Someone is smiling on us – the typhoon gods maybe”, before the typhoon hit Tokyo and caused the cancellation of England’s final pool game, against France.
Gatland said: “I wouldn’t be using do-or die-words. I think they’re a bit sensitive at the moment given what’s happened in the last few weeks. It’s just another game of rugby, but we know how important it is. There is a lot of confidence in this squad given we have not had an 80-minute performance yet.”
Gatland and Alun Wyn Jones are steering the Welsh challenge in Japan. The country could not wish for better men to do so and the news Dan Biggar, Hadleigh Parkes, Jonathan Davies and George North were passed fit to face France boosted Gatland further. The outside-centre Davies had been a big concern because of a knee injury.
Wales have won seven of their last eight meetings with Les Bleus and should be the better side. Still, it will be no foregone conclusion and it is unusual for them to be favourites for a World Cup knockout tie. Gatland is more than comfortable with the position.
“Michael Cheika said we were favourites against Australia and we handled that. It comes with the territory of building and being confident. If you take out the World Cup warm-ups we have won 18 competitive games in a row, we are grand slam champions, and we know as we go on in tournaments we get stronger, more confident, and more cohesive. We are building nicely and we still feel as if we are going under the radar. There is still a lot more emphasis and talk about other teams and that suits us.”
France also received an injury lift yesterday with the scrumhalf Antoine Dupont and wing Damian Penaud named in their side after overcoming knocks. Still, the big-match experience in Gatland’s side should be enough for them to come out on top and their starting XV contains 805 Test caps.
Jones will also move third on rugby’s all-time international appearance list tomorrow and level with the former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll on 141 (132 for Wales, nine for the Lions).
“As a squad we are pretty healthy. There are still a couple of sore bodies, but we are feeling really positive about the way we’ve prepared,” said Gatland, who has named the same starting side that beat Australia. It means the rookie Aaron Wainwright is back at flanker.
“There has been an edge to this week and the players have been incredibly professional. The message we’ve been driving into the players is you’ve got two choices: we are either going home on Monday or we are here until the end of the tournament.”
Wales have Biggar available to start after he suffered two head knocks in as many pool games. “He’s done all the protocols and been fit for three or four days,” Gatland said. “He’s desperate to play, but if he gets a knock in the next few games there would probably be a different course of action. He’s very confident he’s 100 per cent.”
France’s head coach, Jacques Brunel, has made five changes from their last game with Tonga, which was two weeks ago. Brunel said of Biggar: “Everyone has to take their responsibilities. I know that in the French league two concussions means three weeks off. In the same situation in the Top 14 he would not have been allowed to play. Wales’ confidence is higher than ours. They’re the favourites. We’re in the role of the underdog, but it doesn’t stop us believing.” - Guardian
WALES: L Williams; G North, J Davies, H Parkes, J Adams; D Biggar, G Davies; W Jones, K Owens, T Francis; J Ball, A W Jones; A Wainwright, J Tipuric, J Navidi.
Replacements: E Dee, R Carre, D Lewis, A Beard, R Moriarty, T Williams, R Patchell, O Watkin.
FRANCE: M Medard; D Penaud, V Vakatawa, G Fickou, Y Huget; R Ntamack, A Dupont; J Poirot, G Guirado (capt), R Slimani; B Le Roux, S Vahaamahina; W Lauret, C Ollivon, G Alldritt.
Replacements: C Chat, C Baille, E Setiano, P Gabrillagues, L Picamoles, B Serin, C Lopez, V Rattez.