'Don't write us off': Gatland's stern warning
Warren Gatland transformed Wales into an ultra-competitive team when he took over as coach and the Kiwi is again relying on turning the Welsh side into one that is “bloody hard” to beat.
Gatland’s first tenure from 2007 to 2019 saw him lead Wales to three Six Nations Grand Slam titles and the semifinals of the 2011 and 2019 World Cups.
Wayne Pivac took over after Gatland returned to New Zealand, but a poor string of results saw him sacked and the latter recalled.
The results have been immediate, the hard-nosed Gatland seemingly bringing a real edge back to the Welsh side.
“For us it’s about one game at a time, we’ve always been confident in the past about World Cups and the opportunity to get the team together for an extended period,” Gatland said ahead of the team’s second Pool D match against Portugal in Nice.
“We think that we have done well in previous World Cups and would like to get to a final of a World Cup.
“I stated beforehand ‘don’t write us off’. This team is capable of doing something special and I still believe that.”
Gatland added: “Part of the key themes and key message before this World Cup was make sure we’re a bloody hard team to beat and if we’re a hard team to beat, then things can happen for you.
“You get a group of players working for each other, putting that jersey on, that passion about playing for their country, for Wales, they recognise the history, what it means to the fans, the public and the family to represent your country.”
Eradicate ‘dumb decisions’
Wales were certainly put to the test in their opening match, withstanding a ferocious Fijian fightback as they racked up a World Cup record of 254 tackles in a nail-biting 32-26 victory.
Gatland has rung the changes for Portugal, who are yet to play a game.
“It is just because it’s a six-day turnaround,” Gatland said of his decision to make 13 changes from the starting XV that saw off the Fijians.
“The big part of that is that it gives everyone an opportunity.”
Gatland was vocal in his criticism of what he called “dumb decisions” by Wales in the final quarter against Fiji, again calling for them to be eradicated.
“It’s a learning process,” he said. “I thought we were outstanding in that first 60 minutes, the game plan had worked really well and then we came under pressure in that last 15, 13, 10 minutes.
“It’s just making sure we learn from that, but we’ve got to be honest in terms of the way that we address the situation… some offside penalties in our 22 and just making sure we move forward and learn from it.
“It wasn’t great being a coach sitting in the box in the last 10 minutes, I can promise you that, but hopefully we can produce another great game of rugby.”
Portugal, Gatland contended, were “kind of a similar version of Fiji”.
“They play a lot of rugby, they’ve got some exciting players, they like to move the ball around, so we’re kind of prepared almost in the same way we prepared against Fiji,” he said.