Having outscored England by two tries to nil in their 20-9 victory at Principality Stadium in the opening game of the Vodafone Summer Series last weekend, Gatland has made 15 changes to his side and handed the captaincy over to Ospreys hooker Dewi Lake for round two against the auld enemy.
And in the wake of their gruelling camps in Cardiff, Switzerland and Turkey, Gatland has assured his squad their hard work is set to pay dividends.
“I tell you, there’s no team in the world, I don’t care who they are, who have worked as hard as you guys have. No one has gone through what you guys have, I guarantee it,” he told his players.
Wales kick-off their World Cup campaign against newly crowned Pacific Rim champions Fiji in Bordeaux on Monday, 10 September before facing Portugal, Australia and Georgia in Pool C. It will be Gatland’s four successive tournament in charge of Wales and he was also took control of Ireland at the 1999 World Cup.
After Twickenham, Wales return to Principality Stadium for their third and final warm-up match against the reigning world champions, South Africa in what will be a repeat of the 2019 World Cup semi-final.
But it has been the second clash with England that has occupied his thoughts this week and he met up with the media on Thursday to discuss his thoughts ahead of the weekend. This is what he had to say on a variety of topics:
ON DEWI LAKE AS CAPTAIN
“Both boys (Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake) have captained the Under 20s, they are highly respected, not just by us, but by their regions as well. They are potentially future captains of Wales, not just in the short term, but also the long term.
“It’s thinking about putting things together for the World Cup but also starting a process about getting on the next cycle with a group of players. We know there are a number of players who won’t be available for us for the Six Nations, whether they make the World Cup squad or not.”
HOPES FOR SATURDAY AT TWICKENHAM
“England have picked their squad, so they will want to go out there and perform. It’s a good situation to be in, although sometimes it is almost the relief of being selected in the squad, and whether you are quite there emotionally, that’s the challenge for them to get up.
“I know we have a group of players that are in the right headspace because of the team went out last week. They weren’t perfect, but they showed some great signs of what we are looking for as a group.
“They’ll want to perform, and they know they have to perform as well. We didn’t talk about winning last week, we talked about performance.
“I go back to 2019, when we lost a pretty close game up there. The next game at home was all about winning, digging deep and getting the ‘W’ on the board.
“We’ve just talked about the process and guys working and playing hard for each other. The whole mindset is about becoming a really tough team to beat. If we become that team, with players doing those fundamentals well, the result takes care of itself, as you saw last week.
“There is a lot at stake, and players are well aware of that, but we aren’t highlighting that or trying to put extra pressure on them. They are well aware of the situation.
“We are still uncertain, particularly about who is going to be maybe the second or third player in a position, and what the combination of the midfield and make-up of the back-three is going to be. There are definitely opportunities for players to go out and put their hands up.”
A BIGGER CHALLENGE THIS WEEKEND
“I thought England were pretty experienced last week. They’ll have more British & Irish Lions coming into the squad this time, but focus is on us. Looking at the stuff they’ve posted online, they’ve talked about wanting to win the kicking battle. We probably dominated that area last week, so we expect them to kick a heck of a lot more than they did last week.”
ON NEW CAP JOE ROBERTS AT CENTRE
“I’ve been impressed with him for a while, with his footwork and carrying. He’s big through the thighs, which is always a positive for a midfielder. He’s left-footed, too, and we haven’t got any other left-footers, so it gives us a little bit of a point of difference in terms of kicking strategy and exit plays. I will be interested to see how he goes.”
ON THE INJURED PLAYERS
“Taulupe Faletau won’t be available next week. He’s training pretty well, and he’s not feeling anything in his calf. We’re pretty confident he is available for selection.
“Johnny Williams is potentially fit for next week, and Alex Cuthbert should be fit for selection for South Africa. Gareth Anscombe won’t be ready because he took a bit of a knock on his thumb in Turkey. It’s just precautionary at this stage.
“It’s going to be tougher for them if they haven’t trained a lot and they haven’t played. Some might get an opportunity next week, and they’ll probably have to have a pretty special game.
“We’ll see how Saturday goes, and then look at the make-up of the squad. We’ll look at a couple of positions where we are not quite sure, so there might be a double-up of players from the first game just to finalise what we think.
“We’re happy with the depth we are creating. It’s always a challenge for players who have had injuries and haven’t taken a full part.”
BACK ROW STRENGTH
“I’m looking at different combinations. We know we have got some real competition at seven, and if Faletau doesn’t pull through for whatever reason, or breaks down in the next few weeks, we’ve got some players that we’ve had a look at in the backrow.”
“We’re probably looking at taking four centres. And it will probably be a 19-14 split between forwards and backs.”
THOUGHTS ON AUSTRALIAN WORLD CUP SQUAD
“Will Skelton as captain was a little bit of a surprise. Eddie (Jones) seems comfortable with throwing a few curve-balls in there. He has spoken really positively about what they are capable of doing.
“Eddie talked about smash and grab and doing that with the Championship and Bledisloe Cup as well. Part-one hasn’t come off, but they’ve got some talented players.”