Gatland's bold World Cup predictions
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Wales coach Warren Gatland piled the pressure on Ireland ahead of the Six Nations Championship.
The coach believes Ireland are favourites to win the World Cup in Japan later this year.
Ireland may be the Six Nations Grand Slam title-holders but they have yet to get beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
However, they enter this year’s Six Nations on a brilliant run of form after winning 11 of their 12 Tests in 2018, including a 16-9 victory over world champions New Zealand in Dublin in November.
Ireland deserve to be ranked number two in the world, and you could argue that they are actually the best,” said Gatland at the Six Nations launch in London on Wednesday.
“They are favourites to win the World Cup, and rightly so,” added the New Zealander, himself a former Ireland coach.
“They are tough to play against, because of their ball retention, and you have to keep your discipline against them.
“They are one of, if not the hardest teams to play against at the moment,”
Halfpenny has been out since suffering concussion in the victory over Australia in November and the fullback is not expected to return until the home clash with England on February 23, at the earliest.
Wales also look likely to be without scrumhalf Davies and centre Williams when they take on Les Bleus in the opening game of the tournament at Stade de France a week on Friday.
Gatland said: “Leigh Halfpenny is unlikely to play the first couple of games, Gareth Davies has a quad strain and Scott Williams an ankle injury,”
Wales start the Six Nations away to France in Paris on February 1.
This will be Gatland’s last Six Nations as the coach of Wales – he stands down following the World Cup – having led them to three Championship titles, including two Grand Slams, since taking charge in 2005.
Wales are unbeaten in nine Tests, their longest winning streak since 1999, and Gatland said: “We honestly believe that if we can win that first game against on Friday we’ve got a great chance of winning the Six Nations,”