Sport Six Nations

Friday 23 March 2018

Gatland: I've learned not to write off or criticise Ireland

Warren Gatland (Photo: Getty Images)
Warren Gatland (Photo: Getty Images)
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Warren Gatland's grenades are almost a traditional part of the Six Nations build-up these days, but the Wales coach held fire at yesterday's launch, claiming he has learned his lesson about criticising Ireland.

The two countries meet in the pivotal opener on Sunday week knowing victory could make or break their seasons and the Kiwi has decided not to stir things unduly ahead of the Aviva Stadium clash.

The former Ireland supremo has repeatedly criticised his successor Joe Schmidt's approach as Ireland coach since his fellow New Zealander took over, most recently branding the men in green as "narrow" and "easy to deal with" after their World Cup warm-up meeting in August.

Asked whether he believes Ireland will make any changes in the wake of their disappointing World Cup quarter-final exit to Argentina, the former All Black was full of charm as he set out to kill the champions with kindness.

"You have got to take your hat off to Ireland in terms of they have had a game plan that has been incredibly effective," he said.

"They have been brilliant in the air, have a great kicking strategy with Johnny Sexton when he has played at No 10 and that has been successful for them.

"Sometimes, when you come in as a coach into a team you are probably a bit narrow in terms of the way that you prepare the side and the style and then you tend to expand your game and I think Joe did that very much with Leinster. They will definitely move the ball, but it's hard as a coach when you have got something that is working for you to go away from doing that and to change a game plan when it has been effective and it has been a winning formula. They will be very effective in doing that but potentially they will play a bit more rugby too."

Gatland also had a stab at naming Schmidt's pack for the opener, something that will no doubt amuse his opposite number who would prefer to keep him guessing about who will start on Sunday week.

"Players like (Jack) McGrath who played a lot last year and you have got Nathan White who is very, very experienced coming in there potentially in the front-row, Devin Toner has been there. You have a back-row of (Sean) O'Brien and (Jamie) Heaslip and maybe (Rhys) Ruddock, I don't know who is going to be there," he said.

"They have lost a bit of experience, have had a few injuries but they have got the ability to be able to cope with those injuries and they are defending champions for the last two years, they have to go into this competition with a lot of confidence.

"Their first game is at home and traditionally we have struggled in terms of we have got better as the competition has gone on but we haven't been great starters.

"What I have learned in the past is that you do not write off Ireland, you do not criticise Ireland.

"You have got to be very positive about them and the reaction we have seen in the last two weeks is Munster. With the criticism they took with the performance in Stade Francais with them down 14 men and you say the way they responded the following week. Ireland are a fantastic side and they will be a tough team to beat."

Gatland yesterday released Liam Williams and Hallam Amos back to their regions to get them some game-time and he reckons the tournament is wide open.

"Anyone is capable of winning it," he said. "That is what is great about it. We have got a bit of confidence at the moment, Ireland will be tough as defending champions, France are a bit of unknown quantity. You saw how well Scotland did in the World Cup. And England of course have got the strength in depth and quality of players. England have been close and knocking on the door."

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