Monday 24 June 2019

Warren Gatland just couldn't resist one subtle dig at Ireland as he offers congratulations

Joe Schmidt, left, with Wales head coach Warren Gatland
Joe Schmidt, left, with Wales head coach Warren Gatland
Liam Williams (right) celebrates scoring his side’s first try along with team-mate Gareth Davies during the Wales victory against France in Cardiff. Photo: Getty Images

James Corrigan

Classic Warren Gatland. In congratulating Joe Schmidt's team on their Grand Slam, the Wales coach still managed to pat Ireland on the back with one hand, while giving a slap in the face with the other.

To be fair, Gatland was gracious in his praise of the champions, calling the Irish "the best team in the northern hemisphere" and declaring: "They've set the bar."

However, he clearly does not believe his championship runners-up are too far behind.

"It's a fantastic achievement, and Ireland deserve that, but they'll know they were a little bit lucky as well," Gatland said.

"In that first game against France, the last- second drop goal by Johnny Sexton completely changes everything, and there was that late interception against us when we potentially could have won. The great thing about this competition at the moment is how close it is."

Their 14-13 win over the French was certainly close, but that was about all it had going for it as a spectacle. In the aftermath of this wretched curtain-closer, a number of critics focused on the so-called new Wales way and wondered what had come of the expansive philosophy with which they kicked off against Scotland in such style.

With the scraps of possession the home side managed to secure, Dan Biggar all to often went to the air, and when the ball did go across the line, it was a lateral mess - their one try coming from Liam Williams capitalising on comical confusion following a restart.

Wales were pummelled at the breakdown, and but for the hapless Francois Trinh-Duc, France would surely have secured a second successive win over them.

However, Gatland was of the mind that a win was a win and that was all that mattered in the quest to finish second.

"Ireland never looked like scoring a try against France, did they?" he proffered.

"It's like everything. People can turn stats and positions around. Somebody emailed me and said that since 2012 we are joint first in the overall finishing positions in the Six Nations.

"In the 10 years I've been involved, we have had three firsts, a couple of seconds and a few others where it could have easily have been another championship or at least a higher finish.

"We are pretty satisfied with where we are at the moment and think we'll be a much better team this time next year."

Indeed, it is all about next year now, and Gatland has revealed that with the World Cup in view, he will give some of his Lions the summer off in a player-welfare move which may make exhausted internationals from certain neighbouring nations raise their eyebrows.

Wales will play two Tests in Argentina in June, as well as one against South Africa in Washington DC. However, the likes of Alun Wyn Jones and Taulupe Faletau will remain at home.

"In the past, we have always tried to take as strong a squad as we possibly can, so this is the first time we will have left a number of players behind or taken some youngsters and less experienced players," Gatland said.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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