Gatland predicting dawn of Welsh 'golden era'
WALES coach Warren Gatland, far from being subdued after a distinctly average Six Nations campaign, believes his side could be on the cusp of a new "golden era", a process he hopes can start in earnest against South Africa at the Millennium Stadium today.
Gatland is usually a pint-half-full sort of person anyway, but, like many in Wales, he has been encouraged over the past fortnight by the Ospreys' win in the Magners League final over Leinster and Cardiff's victory in the Amlin Cup final against Toulon.
A new generation of Welsh players are learning how to win silverware, which is never a bad habit to form.
"It's fantastic that both teams won; it's been a real confidence booster for Welsh rugby," said Gatland, whose side then leave for a two-Test tour of New Zealand.
"Psychologically it is great that they won away from home at very difficult venues -- Dublin and Marseilles -- because it really gets a monkey off your back. That then becomes a catalyst to better things, because you are not afraid to win any more and it breeds confidence and self-belief.
"I remember that with Wasps. When we were involved in Europe, we hadn't really beaten a big team away until we went and defeated Stade Francais home and away. Suddenly the players were confident and backed themselves to win away from home against very good teams.
"I want to see us repeat that at international level. I honestly feel that between now and 2015 could be a real golden era for Welsh rugby.
"We have got exciting and talented youngsters coming through, while physically we have got a lot of players who are in very good shape. There are some really experienced players who are going to be around for a long time."
Gatland's sentiments would carry more weight if Wales could pull off a rare win against South Africa today, albeit against an under-strength side. Not that Wales will be deceived by that.
There is no such thing as a poor South African team. Three of the outstanding players in the Premiership last season -- Ernst Joubert, Schalk Brits and Michael Claassens -- are considered surplus to requirements for even this mix-and-match XV.
With John Smit in charge and Victor Matfield joining him in a streetwise pack, Wales have it all to do up front, an area where they must at least share the spoils if their dangerous backs are to come into play.
South Africa's humour will not have been improved by news that Premier Rugby intend to formally complain to the International Rugby Board over their attempt to play Butch James today and certain remarks attributed to South African officials. An over-the-top end to an overblown affair. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Wales v South Africa,
Live, Setanta Ireland, 2.30