Gatland ‘has to finish on a high with us’
Every Wales player at the World Cup – apart from captain Alun Wyn Jones – made their debut under Warren Gatland and the camp is determined to repay their departing head coach in the quarter-final against France on Sunday.
With Gatland leaving Wales at the end of the tournament after a hugely successful 11-year reign, the Oita clash with Les Bleus could be his last game in charge. The men around the 56-year-old, however, believe the New Zealander can take them deeper into the knockout stages.
“Warren has been around for a long time,” said Wales flanker Josh Navidi. “He’s experienced. He’ll have us ready for France. He gives us confidence because we know he’s been there and done it. We want the coaches to finish on a high and to have the send-off they deserve.
“Warren’s legacy speaks for itself and what we’ve achieved as a nation from the start of his time to where we are now is amazing.”
Gatland’s teams have delivered on the big stage in the past and Wales are firm favourites to maintain their impressive recent run against France, having won seven of the sides’ past eight games.
At his two previous World Cups, Gatland has led Wales to a semi-final and quarter-final. He is set to field a full-strength side against France.
Hadleigh Parkes missed training for the second straight day in Beppu yesterday as the centre continues to nurse a sore shoulder. His midfield partner Jonathan Davies trained fully. His left leg was heavily strapped, but Telegraph Sport understands both men – plus fellow backs Dan Biggar, George North and Josh Adams – will be fit to start.
Gatland’s main selection dilemma is who to name in the back row alongside Navidi and Justin Tipuric, with Aaron Wainwright and Ross Moriarty the options. “Everyone seems OK and it’s a huge week for us,” said Wales skills coach Neil Jenkins. “We either turn up or we are going home. It will be a very tough game and a very tight one. It’s knockout rugby now and it does not get much bigger.
“Warren is not just an incredible coach, he is an incredible person as well. He brings so much to this environment it’s unbelievable. It will be incredibly sad to see him go, but it would be nice if we could give ourselves another fortnight in Japan.”
France remain hopeful scrumhalf Antoine Dupont will play after he returned to training following a back injury. Coach Jacques Brunel is still sweating on wing Damian Penaud, who had been complaining of hip pain but will train today.
Wales and France both name their teams tomorrow. “There has only been one score in it in the last eight games we have played against France,” said Wales hooker Ken Owens. “We have confidence, but it’s not arrogance as we know how good a team the French are. They have proved that against us in the past.”
When Joe Schmidt took over from Declan Kidney as Ireland head coach in the autumn of 2013, they were still reeling from a record 60-0 thrashing handed out by the All Blacks the previous summer. It is just one measure of the extraordinary job that Schmidt has done that, as he prepares his team for what could be his final match in charge against the same opposition in Tokyo on Saturday, they have won two of their past three Tests against New Zealand.
There can be no debate that the 54-year-old is the greatest coach in Irish rugby history. Schmidt’s impact – four titles in as many years with Leinster, three Six Nations crowns in six years (including winning the Grand Slam at Twickenham last year) with Ireland, a complete overhaul of the provincial system together with Irish Rugby Football Union performance director David Nucifora – is well documented. He has raised a country’s expectations; completely changed their mindset.
But what drives Schmidt? What drives the man driving Irish rugby? That is less well known.
Schmidt speaks very little about his upbringing in Woodville, near Palmerston North. One of eight children, he was actually born in Kawakawa, Northland, moving to Woodville later. This is Smallville, even by New Zealand standards. After winning the first of his three Six Nations titles, he joked that it was “pretty hard [to imagine] when you’re born in Kawakawa, 1,400 people and you’re shifted to the metropolis of Woodville – 1,600 people. It’s huge.”
Rugby was always a potential escape route, and Schmidt desperately wanted to make it as a player. But he was too small. Not that he accepted it. Former All Blacks scrum-half Mark Donaldson, who coached Schmidt at provincial club Manawatu, said he tried to break it to Schmidt as gently as he could that he was not going to cut it.
“I sort of laughed and said, ‘Look mate, you are really doing well to do what you do in club footy but you just won’t make my cut’. He went away to the gym – no one was going to the gym in those days – and put
Great expectations: Joe Schmidt has raised the standard of Irish rugby