Saturday 21 September 2019

Gatland's 'silent assassins' happy to stay under the radar

Wales head coach Warren Gatland. Photo: REUTERS/Rebecca Naden
Wales head coach Warren Gatland. Photo: REUTERS/Rebecca Naden

James Corrigan

Warren Gatland is intent on making more history after Wales won all four of their November games for the first time.

And the head coach has now targeted the country's record for most wins in succession.

Their hard-earned 20-11 triumph over South Africa made it nine in a row and to eclipse the 1910 team, Wales will need to beat France and Italy in the Six Nations - and then account for England at home.

"The boys achieved something pretty special and the next mark is to try to get the (record for the undefeated sequence) of games," Gatland said.

"The first game in the Six Nations away in France becomes pretty important, doesn't it?"

If Wales can topple Les Bleus for the sixth time in seven games - and their humiliating 21-14 loss to Fiji in Paris on Saturday suggests as much - they will equal the streak set by Graham Henry's men in 1999, and only the great side of 108 years ago will stand in their way.

"I think it's huge," George North said.

"The first ever clean sweep is not to be sniffed at. Hopefully we have done the country proud."

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As wretched as it was to see Ellis Jenkins being carried off on a stretcher late on, the outpouring of sympathy for the 25-year-old, who made such an impact in his first home start against a tier-one nation, was also tempered by the realisation that Wales have so many options in the back-row.

The talented Jenkins set up Tomas Francis's early try and then proceeded to boss the breakdown, and the supporters will be nervously awaiting the results of today's scan on his knee.

But even if it is confirmed that the anterior cruciate ligament is ruptured and he will miss the Six Nations and even face a race to make the World Cup, Wales know that not only is Lions No 8 Taulupe Faletau due to come back, but also two opensides in James Davies and Josh Navidi and a blindside in Aaron Shingler.

Indeed, Jenkins was only on the field from the start because another Lion, Dan Lydiate, was a late withdrawal with an elbow injury.

Then, in the 12th minute, the home side lost No 8 Ross Moriarty due to a head injury assessment.

So, with Aaron Wainwright, the 21-year-old Dragons prospect, coming on for his home debut, the match had barely begun and only Justin Tipuric was still in the back-row from the named XV.

In the front-row, Gatland has unearthed tighthead Dillon Lewis; in the second-row Adam Beard has stepped up; in the half-backs Tomas Williams is pushing Gareth Davies hard and Gareth Anscombe has dislodged Dan Biggar; while in the back-three Josh Adams managed to keep out Liam Williams from the line-up that faced Australia.

Rassie Erasmus, the South Africa coach, labelled Wales "the silent assassins of world rugby" and this is exactly how Gatland wants it.

"We want to just keep doing what we are doing and slip under the radar if possible, and hopefully after today's performance people can concentrate on talking England up and how good Ireland are and we can concentrate on ourselves," Gatland said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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