In Warren We Trust As Gatland Gets Ready To Go Again

Trust, Warren Gatland.

After all, there is no-one more qualified to take Wales into their opening World Cup match in France this weekend.

No head coach in world rugby knows the tournament better than the man who will celebrate his 60th birthday on 17 September.

The perfect birthday present for him would be a trip to another knock-out stage at the World Cup in France.

Incredibly, this will be Gatland’s fifth World Cup as a coach and he’s actually signed on for a sixth as his WRU contract runs through to 2027.

This will be his fourth successive campaign with Wales, and he has twice taken his team to the semi-final stage.

In 2015, his side were knocked out in the quarter finals by South Africa.

It was the Springboks who ended the dream in Japan four years ago, too.

In 2011, it had been the French who had denied Gatland’s Welsh battlers, 9-8, in Auckland in a game in which the Wales skipper Sam Warburton saw red for a dangerous tackle.

But his World Cup journey goes back even further to the tournament hosted by Wales in 1999, when he was in charge of Ireland. On that occasion his side bowed out to Argentina in the quarter-final play-offs.

The opening game next month against the Fijians in Bordeaux will be Gatland’s 24th World Cup game as a head coach at his fifth tournament.

“I’ve always enjoyed being involved in World Cup campaigns because you get a good period of preparation time with the squad. You don’t normally get that, and it means you can work on the finer detail,” said Gatland.

“We like to think we’ve performed pretty well in previous tournaments. We’ve been pretty unlucky not to reach one or two finals.

“A couple of weeks ago we were written off, and there will still be some people out there who won’t fancy our chances.

“But we are a team who, if we can put in some performances and gain some confidence, will just keep on building.

“That’s what I’m hoping will happen and I think we can go deep into this World Cup. Preparations have gone well, and we are really pleased with the whole squad.

“Everyone is fit. We have had a few niggles in the last couple of weeks and there were a few players who couldn’t take a full part because of a few bumps, but they have all been re-habbed and they are fit – it’s a positive place for us to be in,” said Gatland.

“There has been a lot of chat about our group. It is about taking one game at a time and being ready to go on Sunday.

“Getting a good start always helps to have a good tournament and we’re not thinking past Sunday.

“We want to put ourselves in contention for the quarter finals and then take it from there.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard over the last few months and we’ve been preparing well for Fiji. We’ve had some good clarity in what we want to achieve, we’ve had a good look at them, and the players look sharp.”

The Fijians have come into the tournament on the back of five warm-up games.

They won the Pacific Rim tournament, beating Tonga, Samoa and Japan, gave France a few scares in Paris and then beat England at Twickenham.

Australia and Georgia kick-off the Pool C fixtures in Paris on Saturday night, while minnows Portugal, who have qualified for the first time in 16 years, are sitting out the opening round before they face Wales in Nice next week.

“I think we are in a good place, the boys are happy, and it is a great environment to be in with players getting on with each other. We are trying to get a balance between the hard work and having a few laughs,” said Gatland.

“The boys have formed some committees, all the players did their own personal presentations to the group, which were fantastic. Then we have joke of the day and thought for the day, and some video stuff to lighten the mood at the start of team meetings. That has been really positive.

“When they switch off it’s about enjoying each other’s company and enjoying being in France. We’re really happy with how things have been since we arrived and they are enjoying soaking up the atmosphere.”