Warren Gatland ups the ante by lavishing praise on Ireland's problem ref Jerome Garces
Warren Gatland has upped the ante ahead of Sunday's Six Nations opener against his former Ireland charges by lavishing praise on referee Jerome Garces - who provoked the wrath of the Irish in the World Cup quarter-final flop against Argentina.
Hailing Garces as one of the top two referees in the world, Gatland (right) admitted that he selected his surprise front-row with the referee's scrum interpretation in mind - just as the Irish re-opened old wounds about their treatment at the hands of the Frenchman during the World Cup.
"It was part of the conscious decision in terms of that selection," said Gatland, who sprung a major shock by omitting the 119-times capped Lions loosehead Gethin Jenkins and installing Rob Evans, who will win merely his fourth.
"I thought he was one of the best referees in the World Cup. He's definitely not afraid to referee an upset as well, which is pleasing to see.
"He was in charge of the South Africa-Japan game at the World Cup, as well as Ireland-Argentina and us against England. Someone said that out of his last six Six Nations matches, five away teams have won. I think he just referees what's in front of him."
Ireland have not always been happy with what Garces has presented in front of them.
He caused consternation in the Ireland camp after they conceded ten penalties in the pool game against Italy, when the Irish felt that he had treated the same situations differently in either half, even though new captain Rory Best later admitted Joe Schmidt's side hadn't prepared properly for that scrum test.
The Irish were also livid at a number of calls made by Garces during the 43-20 slaughter by the Pumas with assistant coach Simon Easterby confirming that his side "needed clarity" before Sunday's clash on an issue that has also dogged their recent meetings with Wales, including the warm-up defeat last August.
"That is something that we felt we needed clarity on after the Argentina match in particular," said Easterby.
"We felt at times we had a bit of dominance but the scrum went down and then either the ref says you to play it but the back-row had stood up, they were already off the scrum and then you don't get the advantage of a reasonably dominant scrum or at least a stable scrum.
"Jerome Garces, we have had a good look at him. We feel if we're disciplined, if we keep our shape, we're trying to keep the scrum up, then we will get our reward, whether it is being able to play off a platform and not a collapsed scrum, or if we get a little bit of an advantage then trying to make the most of that in terms of being rewarded by the referee.
"Coming into a championship that is one area that is always a talking point. We'll see after 80 minutes and from the games before on the Saturday how the referees have been directed to referee that area."
Gatland, who made three other changes to his side, added: "At the moment, from the performances we have seen recently, him and Nigel are definitely the two top referees in world rugby."
Wales - G Anscombe; G North, J Davies, J Roberts (Harlequins), T James; D Biggar, G Davies; R Evans, S Baldwin, S Lee; L Charteris, A-W Jones; S Warburton (capt), J Tipuric, T Faletau. Reps: K Owens, G Jenkins, T Francis, B Davies, D Lydiate, L Williams, R Priestland, A Cuthbert.