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Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland during training.

Gatland explains selection for Ireland

Warren Gatland, the Wales men’s head coach, sat down with the media to explain his thoughts and reasons behind his selections for the Guinness Six Nations opener against Ireland at Principality Stadium on Saturday. 

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Can you explain your thoughts behind your selection for the Ireland game? 

Wareen Gatland (WG): It has been a bit of a balancing act. In fairness to the players there has been real competition in the squad and we have been pleasantly surprised by that and we had a really good selection meeting and some really robust debate as well.

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For us, kicking off this first game, we are looking for a mixture of some experience and some continuity but the message to the squad is that they will all get an opportunity during this Six Nations campaign.

We want to do well in this Six Nations but we are also thinking long-term about the next seven and eight months, and that means the development of some of the younger players who haven’t had a lot of Test experience and how we get them ready for France.

You have selected Joe Hawkins at inside centre, a young player with real potential, what has impressed you about him?

WG: “I thought Joe was really, really good against Australia, when he was on for that game. It was his first start, he is a really tidy footballer and Neil Jenkins thinks potentially he will be a 10. He is an option there, he has played there before and he has a lot of those skills. We have some real competition in that 12 position, Keiran Williams has been outstanding in the last week or so. We know the experience Nick Tompkins has, there have been some nice touches from Mason Grady, and I am really excited about the midfield and the potential there going forward. Joe is a bit about continuity and familiarity with George North in the midfield. They have played together and he will have experience inside him and outside him as well. Joe is a lovely footballer and I wanted to give him the reassurance and confidence on the performance he had against Australia.

It must have been a really close selection call between Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams? 

WG: “There are a couple of things there. Liam trained today, Leigh has got a little bit of a tight hip, so we kept him out of this morning’s session. Liam hasn’t had a lot of rugby and has had a knock and a finger injury and didn’t take part in training last week. We want to give him more training time with the team but obviously if something happens with Leigh, we will make a decision on what happens. We had everybody fit and available for selection but we did have some players with knocks and bumps, who didn’t take a full part with us last week. We need Liam to get a bit more training time under his belt but there is no doubt he will feature at some stage in this tournament.

Ireland are favourites for this Guinness Six Nations opening game are you comfortable being everybody’s underdogs? 

WG: “All the Welsh like to be underdogs and, I suppose, the expectation is all about the expectation we put on ourselves. We know how good Ireland are and you don’t become number one team in the world without consistency and performance. They have a lot of players from Leinster and obviously they are  one of the form teams in world club rugby, really. Their success and consistency of performance is there and we realize what a challenge they will be and they have continuity of being unbeaten in the Autumn Tests. There will be confidence there and it will be a challenge for us, but that underdog tag is something the boys have tended to relish and they like people writing them off and it does tend to motivate us. I am confident we are going to give a really good account of ourselves on Saturday.

You have selected Alun Wyn Jones, whose record speaks at Test level speaks for itself, how important is he to this side?  

WG: ”I sat down with Alun Wyn and we had a good discussion about where he is and I said we need to bring some of the young second rows on as well and give them some game time. He is well aware of that. Alun Wyn has been fantastic in the last week or so with his voice and experience. I want the younger second rows to learn for his experience and I said to him he has been around for the last 15 years and he corrected me and told me it was 17 years. I have always been a great admirer of his but we have to go through the process of transition and I would love him to make the decision when he calls time but he is well aware of the needs of the team at the moment.

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