Friday 15 December 2017

Gatland insists Wales can be upbeat ahead of summer tour

Wales 51 Scotland 3

Rhodri Williams of Wales is tackled by Euan Murray of Scotland during the RBS Six Nations match
Rhodri Williams of Wales is tackled by Euan Murray of Scotland during the RBS Six Nations match
Alex Cuthbert in action during the RBS Six Nations match between Wales and Scotland at Millenium Stadium

Matt Majendie

This Six Nations was supposed to be the moment Wales wrote a new chapter.

Warren Gatland had encouraged his players on the eve of the tournament to talk about the potential to take their place in the record books by becoming the first side to win three consecutive Six Nations titles.

Instead, Wales were the best of the also-rans behind champions Ireland and England. Saturday's annihilation of 14-man Scotland left players and coaching staff wondering what might have been.

This rout ended their campaign in a carnival atmosphere at the Millennium Stadium, but it masked the poor displays away from home against Ireland and England. There is now a summer tour to South Africa to ponder and, more importantly, the World Cup next year.

However, Gatland insisted there was every reason to be positive looking towards the future. "We've done reasonably well in this competition," he said. "The media put a lot of pressure on us, but in the last three years we've won 12 out of 15 (Six Nations) games. I don't think that's a bad record in this competition for a small country like Wales with such a small playing base.

"We're pretty happy with where we are at the moment. We've got a big tour of South Africa. We probably dropped off a little bit and that's understandable. A few of our players weren't where they were 12 months ago in terms of fitness.

"But what's pleasing about this group of players is the way they can respond and change. If something doesn't work out for them, I like to think they can respond positively with a performance next time."

After both the Ireland and England defeats, Gatland had called for a big performance from his players, and they delivered on both occasions, ending the tournament with a confidence-boosting drubbing of the Scots.

But Gatland will be without his two most influential players in South Africa. Leigh Halfpenny dislocated his shoulder against England and has confirmed he will take no part in the summer tour. Sam Warburton sustained a similar injury and the captain is also expected to be missing.

Gatland, though, now has a selection headache to solve over his first-choice fly-half. Dan Biggar started against Scotland, having played under­study to Rhys Priestland for much of the Six Nations. However, Biggar's superior spot-kicking increases his chances, with Halfpenny out injured.

(© Independent News Service)

Wales – L Williams (J Hook 64); A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts, G North; D Biggar (R Priestland 62), M Phillips (R Williams 53); G Jenkins (P James 57), K Owens (R Hibbard 57), R Jones (AR Jones 54); L Charteris (J Ball 64), A-W Jones; D Lydiate (J Tipuric 53), S Warburton, T Faletau.

Scotland – S Hogg; D Fife (D Taylor 66), A Dunbar, M Scott, M Evans; D Weir, G Laidlaw (C Cusiter 61); R Grant (A Dickinson 45), S Lawson (R Ford 45), G Cross (E Murray 40); R Gray, J Hamilton (T Swinson 54); R Wilson, K Brown (A Strokosch 8), D Denton.

Ref – J Garces (France).

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