Warren Gatland says ‘the right structures’ give Ireland an advantage over Wales

By Sports Desk February 22, 2024

Wales head coach Warren Gatland says he is “not 100 per cent convinced” that Welsh regional rugby will undergo the proper reset he feels it requires.

Wales face runaway Guinness Six Nations title favourites Ireland in Dublin on Saturday – and the contrast between two long-standing rivals could hardly be greater.

On the field, Ireland have lost just two of their last 40 home Tests, while victory over Wales would see them equal England’s record of 11 successive Six Nations wins.

Wales, meanwhile, have lost nine of their last 10 Six Nations fixtures, and off the field it is a similar case of chalk and cheese.

Ireland are thriving from a system of centrally-contracted players that underpins vibrant, successful provincial teams, while Wales’ four professional regions are each preparing for significant budget cuts that will take effect from next season.

Asked to assess the key difference between Irish and Welsh rugby, Gatland said: “I think they (Ireland) have just got the right structures in place.

“Probably, if I look at the previous time I was here (between 2008 and 2019), we were kind of papering over the cracks of the things that were happening in Welsh rugby.

“We have got an opportunity for a reset, which unfortunately I am not 100 per cent convinced we will have a proper reset within our regions.

“It has probably felt sometimes like you are in a sinking ship and you are trying to plug the holes a little bit. So there is still lots of work for us to do.

“It took a long time (in Ireland), but that has benefited from the performances of their provincial teams, which has transferred into their international team.

“We were probably the other way around. We were the reverse. Right now, we are probably reflective of where our regions are. We have got to look at closing that gap.”

Gatland believes having the correct infrastructure at Wales’ four professional regions – Cardiff, Scarlets, Ospreys and Dragons – is key.

“I continue to speak about infrastructure, getting the right infrastructure, the right environment, the right S&C (strength and conditioning) coaches, medical staff, quality coaches. training facilities, grounds and stuff,” he added.

“Forget about the players. Get that (infrastructure) right, and then you start building your squad.

“We have tended to do it the other way around – or a bit of 50/50 – and then it just feels like you are plugging up the holes of a sinking ship.

“The only way we are going to do it as a group is if we work together and we support each other.

“Everyone talks about the finances, and I understand that, but it is (about) making the right decisions.

“The short-term fix is to go and buy two or three players that might plug a couple of holes.

“But if we don’t think about the long-term benefit of the game and the infrastructure we’ve got, we are just going to be behind the eight-ball continuously.

“My advice to all the regions is don’t worry about players. If it means picking young players to your squad, make sure you spend the money on your facilities, make sure you spend the money on the right people within your environment.”

On Saturday’s Aviva Stadium encounter, Gatland said: “There has been a lot said about us being underdogs, but that is not a motivation for us.

“The motivation is the pressure we are putting on ourselves to get better from game one and two.

“We have spoken all week about having no fear to go there. It is going to be a huge challenge for us, but you have got to embrace that, you have got to be excited about that.”

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