Gats Backs Kids To Shine

Warren Gatland is confident his youngsters can make all the right moves over the next week as they prepare to take on Scotland in their opening match of the Six Nations.

The Wales coach will be boosted by the return to training of George North this weekend when the players gather at their Vale of Glamorgan base.

North injured his shoulder playing for the Ospreys last week in South Africa, but is expected to train for the first time on Friday with the match against the Scots just eight days away.

The veteran centre has never been more valuable to Gatland, given the wealth of experience he holds in 119 caps for his country.

But Gatland feels the blend of new faces and old can spark something unexpected and adventurous that fans can get behind.

The uncapped contingent comprises Cardiff quartet Cameron Winnett, Evan Lloyd, Alex Mann and Mackenzie Martin, in addition to Bath prop Archie Griffin, while almost half the squad have eight caps or fewer.

“It is incredibly exciting,” said Gatland, who named 21-year-old Exeter lock Dafydd Jenkins as his skipper.

“If you look at the squad we have got some talent, we’ve got some experience there from players we had with us at the World Cup.

“We have lost a lot of experience, but it is a new cycle for us to go through. We probably need a little bit of time and a little bit of patience from the Welsh public.


“I hope they can see that given some time together we can develop a squad over the next few years.

“I think this for us, looking at Wales having such a small group of players in terms of a Tier One nation, it is something that we need to plan and look at how we implement that plan over the next three or four years.

“Some of that is doing it right from the start. I think that despite all the negativity around Welsh rugby I think there are a lot of positives.

“There are a lot of negatives financially, but the financial challenges mean that we are giving opportunities to lots of youngsters that we may not have seen a few years ago, and for me that is a massive positive.

“We are not going to benefit in the short term, but I think that in the next three or four years we are going to benefit from us giving them those chances.”

North, now 31, is the leading Welsh tryscorer in Six Nations history with 23, having overtaken Shane Williams with his try against France in Paris last year, and is now chasing down Brian O’Driscoll’s tournament high of 26.

He picked up his first Welsh cap 14 years ago in 2010 against South Africa when he was only 18. He started as he meant to go on, scoring twice against the Springboks. He now has 47 tries for Wales and two more for the British & Irish Lions.

Only Shane Williams with 58 has scored more tries for Wales. He is also one of only six players to have scored 50 or more Test tries. North is now one away from joining that select band, led by Japanese wing Daisuke Ohata with 69.

For Scotland, Grant Gilchrist has been ruled out of that opener against Wales due to suspension.

The Edinburgh lock has been banned for one week following an independent disciplinary hearing after two yellow card offences for dangerous tackles during his club’s Challenge Cup Round 4 match against the Scarlets.

While the looming Six Nations means there are no fixtures for the four Welsh regions this weekend, it allows the Indigo Welsh Premiership to take centre stage.

Llandovery are the runaway leaders, with just one defeat so far this season, and they will put that record to the test away to RGC on Saturday.

Second-place Ebbw Vale are at home to Neath, aiming to narrow that six-point gap between themselves and the Drovers.