Warren Gatland: ‘Ireland go into the Six Nations as favourites’

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Wales head coach Warren Gatland has admitted that Joe Schmidt’s Ireland side are favourites for this year’s Six Nations.

The 2012 and 2013 champions missed out on a three-in-a-row last year and suffered a thumping defeat in Dublin to the eventual winners.

Looking ahead to the pending campaign, Gatland acknowledged each team has its own motivations and that they’ll each experience their own type of pressure too.

“For all of us, there’s a lot of prestige at stake about winning the Six Nations. I think everyone’s in contention. For us, the expectation is to win. I’m sure it’s exactly the same for Ireland – they go in as favourites.”

“There’s a lot of pressure on England to win as well. France haven’t won the Six Nations since 2010 and there’s a revival in Scotland under Vern Cotter. Italy have three home games too. But this is the tournament with points at stake and it’s important you win and get some confidence. In the back of our minds, we’re all thinking about the next six months in terms of preparation for the World Cup.”

Rugby Union - 2015 RBS Six Nations Launch - Hurlingham Club
Rugby Union - 2015 RBS Six Nations Launch - Hurlingham Club

With Vern Cotter finally taking the reins in Scotland (and quietly overseeing a reversal of fortunes after an immensely encouraging Autumn series), it means that three New Zealanders will do battle in this season’s competition. Owing to the dearth of openings back home, Gatland feels that it makes perfect sense for well-read Kiwi coaches to travel elsewhere to gain the requisite experience.

To be honest, there’s not a lot of opportunities for coaches in New Zealand. The old NPC – the provincial championship – is almost sort-of semi-pro now. You’ve got, say, the All Blacks’ coaching job and five other professional sides in Super Rugby so that’s five or six jobs in New Zealand that don’t always become available.”

“For a lot of the coaches, part of the pathway from New Zealand is to look at other opportunities, whether it’s Japan or France or the UK where, potentially, there’s a lot more opportunities and chances for coaches to come over here and experience that and then go back to New Zealand. The money’s better over here as well!”

Wales begin their tournament on Friday night with a clash against England in Cardiff and after their 29-18 loss in the reverse fixture last season, it’s an ample opportunity to pick up some momentum and exact some revenge.

But, with Stuart Lancaster’s outfit troubled by a lengthy injury list – Owen Farrell and David Wilson are definitely out while Brad Barritt, Kyle Eastmond, Geoff Parling and Tom Wood are all rated as doubtful, Gatland is wary of taking anything for granted.

“If you were England, you’d be talking about all of the injuries and try and talk Wales up. We’ve got to make sure we don’t get distracted by that sort of chat and just concentrate on ourselves. They’ve got so much strength in depth that it doesn’t matter who they pick. We saw that last summer – they were able to go to New Zealand and push the All Blacks really close in that first game and then make a number of changes for that second and third tests. So, it’s going to be a tough game for the both of us.”

Rugby Union - RBS Six Nations - England v Wales - Twickenham
Rugby Union - RBS Six Nations - England v Wales - Twickenham

“We’ve got a bit of a baggage to get rid of. We lost last year in Twickenham in a game we didn’t play well in and still could’ve won. For England, two years ago, a lot of people still talking about what happened in the Millennium Stadium and they would’ve learned from that experience. There’s a lot of expectation for both teams and for us, you win that first game and you get a bit of confidence, a bit of momentum and you can go and win the championship. You lose the first one and it’s easy to finish at the other end of the table.”

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