Gatland earmarks Ireland clash as final 'trial'
WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT: The world’s top-ranked team, Wales, moved into a crucial phase of their build-up to the global showpiece.
Wales moved to the top of the world rankings for the first time, after beating England 13-6 in Cardiff at the weekend – ending almost a decade at the summit for World Cup holders New Zealand.
However, the Welsh hardly pause to celebrate their achievement, as Warren Gatland and his coaching staff look to work on squad’s fitness and refining their skills.
Wales flew to Turkey after the Cardiff win, where they will train at the Gloria Sports Arena with a tough week or so is ahead.
They will then return to Wales ahead of facing Ireland in Cardiff on August 31.
“That is going to be a really important match for players involved,” Gatland said in an interview on the Welsh Rugby Union website.
“It will be their last chance, their last opportunity before we name the World Cup squad,” the coach added.
“We will announce the squad the following day [Sunday, September 1], so it is a huge match for the players.
“It will be an important game for the supporters too as it’s a chance for them to come out, support the team and see them for the last time before we head off to the Rugby World Cup.”
Hooker Ken Owens, who produced a fine display against England, said: “It is a good chance to get nine days away and get a little bit more training in away from everything.
“We can just concentrate on the rugby again, get our combinations working, and get more time on the training field in full rugby situations.
“We want to get ready to peak for the two games against Ireland to come.”
Wales faced England in two World Cup warm-up games with each side winning one match each. Next, up for Gatland’s men are home and away clashes with Ireland.
“That was good. We are pretty happy, but we know we have to improve again,” added Owens as he reflected on the home win over England.
“Everything we spoke about regarding having a better start, a lot more line-speed defensively and accuracy in the attack, we did against a great England side.
“The scrum was a lot better and we can improve again, but like everything, it is small steps forward. We’re going to keep moving in the right direction.
“There were lots of pressure moments out there especially towards the last five or 10 minutes. In fairness, the boys came up with some big plays. Dillon Lewis had a big turnover, we turned the maul over which is a big strength of England, and with a scrum five metres out I managed to get a clean strike and get it out quick. We are not the finished article yet though.”
With just one month to go until the World Cup begins, Josh Adams believes Wales’ intense series and training camps will stand them in good stead for the tournament in Japan.
“We knew we weren’t on our game [in the first match], but we started much better at Principality Stadium,” said the Cardiff Blues wing, a Six Nations Grand Slam winner earlier this year.
“Playing at home makes a big difference to us and we were excellent in the first 20 minutes. We played well in the Six Nations, but it means nothing if we don’t carry this form into the World Cup.
“We’ve had two tough Test matches against England and now there’ll be two hard games to come against Ireland. We are home first against Ireland and then we travel to Dublin.
“The fact we’ve still a couple of intense Tests left to go before the World Cup will stand the squad in good stead going out to Japan.”