Warren Gatland expects Wales to be one of fittest teams at World Cup
Coach admits his side probably got a couple of decisions their way in Grand Slam victory
Wales coach Warren Gatland following their Grand Slam victory at the Principality Stadium. Photograph: David Davies/PA
The Principality Stadium roof; much ado about nothing until Ireland, being walloped 25-zip, were desperately in need of dry ball.
“I think Ireland made a mistake leaving the roof open,” smiled Warren Gatland.
Last Thursday Ireland coach Joe Schmidt confused the media by stating he was not bothered either way about whether it was opened or closed, while secretly the IRFU were emailing the WRU and Six Nations to exercise their right to keep the contraption ajar.
“It was a collective decision, made by a couple of coaches and leaders of the team throughout the week,” Rob Kearney confirmed.
The promised downpour arrived before kick-off and stayed all night long. A friendly steward informed the Irish journalists to beware of the “flying alcohol”.
“Beer. I’m just telling you to mind your laptops. After the England game plenty of it was thrown from back there.”
He nodded to the plush seats on the lower deck around halfway.
Could you not, as a member of stadium security, protect us?
The friendly steward smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Early birds into their seats, and there were tens of thousands, watched the big screen in some agony as Conor O’Shea’s Italy came up a minuscule shy of downing the French in Rome (four or so hours later we watched a smaller screen, in some agony, as Gregor Townsend’s Scotland came up a minuscule shy of downing England at Twickenham).
Aviva Stadium please take note: no need for deafening pop music or silly drummer boys; allow a bubbling Six Nations atmosphere to grow organically. The choir sang Cwm Rhondda and 61 seconds after kick-off Hadleigh Parkes’ try meant Bread of Heaven burst to life – “feed me now or never more” – among the raucous 74,500 crowd, seemingly, whenever Alun Wyn Jones glanced upwards to allow the rain to clean blood and muck from his chiselled face.
It’s difficult not to love the Welsh. It’s equally hard not to admire their adopted Waikato hooker who has unleashed organised chaos on Ireland and everyone else to the tune of three Grand Slams since 2008.
Of course Gatland predicted all of this – “If we win in Paris the Grand Slam will follow” – and so it came to pass.
“I’ve got to have that belief and self-confidence so if I can portray that on to the players in some small way, then hopefully they can believe it as well.”
Gatland has this light-hearted way of sticking it to rivals. In this case, Schmidt, repeatedly, for drenching everyone that attended this Grand Slam parade.
“I thought the referee had an outstanding game but we probably got a couple of decisions our way,” he admitted. “I don’t think [Angus Gardner] was too happy about the roof being open and he was getting wet so that probably helped us a little bit too.”
Did we see tears during the trophy presentation, Warren?
“No, that was the rain.”
He did drop some crumbs of comfort for his schoolboy teammate from 35 years ago.
“I’m excited about the World Cup,” where Ireland and Wales could cross paths in the semi-final. “You get that two or three months together and you can prepare like a club side, a lot of skill work and really fine-tune your game, so we’ll be in great shape. We’ve always been one of the fittest teams at the World Cups I’ve been involved in, and we will be at this one as well.”
There is time to fix this Irish collapse. The problem is Wales, clearly, can improve.
“We like to think there is more in us,” added Wyn Jones. “But we just put a big target on our backs as well.”