Sunday 21 January 2018

Warren Gatland raises question over Welsh future

Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland

Wales head coach Warren Gatland has paid a glowing tribute to departing Welsh Rugby Union group chief executive Roger Lewis - but admitted it could impact on his own long-term future.

Gatland, who was signed up by Lewis eight years ago, is under contract with Wales until 2019.

During that time, Wales have won three RBS 6 Nations titles, including two Grand Slams, and reached a World Cup semi-final.

Lewis announced on Tuesday that he will leave his post after the World Cup later this year.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Gatland said: "The relationship the national team have had with Roger since I've been here has been outstanding.

"There is no doubt we have some of the best facilities in the world, and when we've gone to him for things he's been absolutely outstanding.

"I think he's going to leave Welsh rugby in a very, very healthy state, and the challenge is for someone who comes in to continue the good work he has done."

Asked if Lewis' decision had any bearing on Gatland's future, the New Zealander added: "Yeah, it probably does."

Asked if he would elaborate on that final point, Gatland said: "No."

Reflecting on Lewis' tenure, Gatland added: "You have to respect someone's decision. He has overseen a fantastic period in Welsh rugby in terms of success, and the job he has done financially has been absolutely outstanding.

"You always have to respect people's decisions, and I will reiterate the relationship we've had with him has been brilliant.

"The biggest thing is the support he's given us. It's made our job easier. We couldn't have asked any more for what he's delivered for us."

Gatland, meanwhile, has recalled wing George North and prop Samson Lee for Saturday's Six Nations clash against France in Paris.

North has not played since taking two blows to his head during a 21-16 home defeat against England earlier this month, with Wales deciding to rest him for the Scotland game nine days ago.

But Northampton star North now returns, replacing his fellow 2013 British and Irish Lion Alex Cuthbert, while Lee - who was concussed in the England match - takes over from Aaron Jarvis. Two other changes following the victory over Scotland see starts for hooker Scott Baldwin and lock Luke Charteris.

While North, as expected, is back in the fold, there is no place for Cuthbert.

The Cardiff Blues wing, who has scored 14 tries for Wales, misses out as Gatland fields a back-three of Leigh Halfpenny, North and Liam Williams.

Baldwin and Charteris, meanwhile, are promoted from the bench on duty in Edinburgh, replacing Richard Hibbard and Jake Ball, respectively.

While Gloucester forward Hibbard is included among the replacements, Ball does not make the match-day 23, with Wasps' Bradley Davies chosen as second-row cover.

With Baldwin and Lee both featuring alongside Gethin Jenkins, it means Gatland reunites the front-row that started Wales' 12-6 victory over South Africa earlier this season.

Gatland added: "We have made some tough calls and there were some tight decisions, but it is a very strong team we are putting out.

"We have a lot of strength in depth at second-row. It is a chance for Luke Charteris to get a start, and we have been impressed with Bradley Davies as well.

"It is nothing against Jake, but we have a lot of strength in depth and it's an opportunity to see the other two.

"It's a chance for Scott Baldwin to start as well. The last time he started he went well in the victory over South Africa.

"It is great to have Samson back available, and it was a tough call in the back-three, but we have decided to go with Liam and George.

"We felt we improved against Scotland, and we are looking for another improvement this weekend. It's a tough competition to go on the road and ask for that, but that is what we are looking for."

Wales are chasing a fourth successive Six Nations win against France - Les Bleus have also failed to score a try during that sequence - while flanker Sam Warburton will captain his country for the 33rd time, equalling Ryan Jones' Wales record.

A Wales victory at Stade de France would keep them in the Six Nations title mix ahead of hosting reigning champions Ireland on March 14.

Press Association

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