Warren Gatland Q&A: My targets this summer and the player definitely not done with Wales

-Credit: (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency Ltd)
-Credit: (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency Ltd)

Warren Gatland insists he sees light at the end tunnel for Wales but admitted some players need a kick up the backside.

Gatland has named a training squad of 36 players which will be cut to 34 after Wales' Test match against South Africa at Twickenham. There were four uncapped players in Gloucester speedster Josh Hathaway, scrum-half Ellis Bevan, utility back Jacob Beetham and Ospreys wing Keelan Giles.

Gatland has also recalled experienced pair Liam Williams and Cory Hill who have been playing their club rugby out in Japan, while Dewi Lake and Jac Morgan return from injury. Here's every word as Gatland held court at Wales' Vale of Glamorgan base.

What's your general thoughts on the squad?

"It's pretty young, it's pretty exciting. We are pretty happy with the players we've got.

"We've tried to keep some continuity with the direction we are going. The big focus for us is on building some depth in the squad and also building some competition as we possibly can over the next few years.

What's the thinking behind only picking one recognised 10?

"The thinking behind that is looking at some other options and depth at 10. We are probably looking at a player who can potentially play differently in that position.

"There's some good young tens in Wales at the moment but they are not big. They are quite small so we are looking for a different type of 10 with potentially a different type of stature."

Who is that?

"Potentially someone like Ben Thomas or Jacob Beetham."

So, Jacob Beetham will be considered as a 10?

"Potentially yeah. Potentially.

"He can play 15 and he can play midfield as well. He's played 10 at under age.

"We know Ben's played there and has had a couple of games for Cardiff and went there on the weekend. We were really pleased with his performance."

Why have you picked Josh Hathaway?

"Well, to make sure we qualify him for Wales! He's a young player with a lot of potential.

"We think there's a lot of improvement in his game whether that's wing or full-back. He's done some really impressive things on attack for Gloucester this year.

"We want to bring him into the squad and look to see what he can do with him."

Why not select Nicky Smith and Morgan Morris?

"Nicky has done all right. It's about continuity and selection in a number of positions.

"We know what Nicky can do and for some of those players we've picked them and we want to continue to develop them and keep them in the squad. You can't do that with every single player in every single position.

"That's a big part of the thinking behind that how we feel we can develop some of those youngsters. I think the best example of that is Evan Lloyd.

"We brought him into the squad and we saw the potential in him. That was identified in fairness with Cardiff quite early on.

"We saw how much he improved during his time with us and he was outstanding for Cardiff at hooker on the weekend. There's a few other players in that category who need a little bit more time and some continuity in the squad."

What does Morgan Morris need to do to win selection?

"It's not just attack stuff it's both sides of the ball we look at. When we got through the videos and expressing that with the players it's not just the stuff we look at around the ball.

"We look at things off the ball and those sorts of things. Morgan has had some really good games for the Ospreys.

"We've got a lot of players in those positions as well but for him it's about working and making sure that he does things on both sides of the ball not just from an attacking perspective."

How did the Cory Hill incident from a few years ago and the fact he plays in the Japanese fourth division come into your thinking?

"That was dealt with by Cardiff. For us that timeframe has gone.

"We've moved passed that and had a conversation with Cory about him coming back and being available over the next few years and hopefully through to the World Cup."

If the Ospreys win this weekend does that change your plans going into South Africa?

"We'll take it one step at a time. From their perspective they probably didn't think they'd get to this stage in the quarter-finals.

"It's great for the Ospreys in terms of making the quarter-finals. Probably the draw against Munster away they'll look at that as a positive that they can go out there and hopefully put in a good performance.

"You spoke about selection when we look at the players we look at what we can do in terms of developing them. We don't always look at club performances and sometimes we look at club performances against big teams when they are fully loaded.

"You talk about the Ospreys it was a good win for them on the weekend but go back to when we look at games like when they played against the Bulls or they played against Leinster when they were fully loaded. We make those sorts of comparisons when we look at players as well."

Can you not play them for the South Africa game if they've only been in camp a few days?

"That's a decision we'll have to make and see what happens with them. Hopefully they do go all the way and we'll have to look at bringing some other players in.

"If they win that quarter-final and go onto that semi-final and final we'll have to think who we replace those players with. Fingers crossed they do get that opportunity to go as far as they can."

When you look back at the Six Nations and look at your own performance did you learn anything?

"I think the big thing for us was when we reviewed the Six Nations there was a couple of games we put ourselves in a position where we could have won and probably should have won.

"Things about our game management. That's a big focus for us and definitely for this group looking at both sides of the ball whether that's attack or defence.

"We need to improve our collision dominance to get some go forward. We need to make sure we get some quality and quick ball particularly on the front foot.

"We probably saw that a few weeks ago with the big difference with Dewi Lake and Jac Morgan when they played for the Ospreys against the Dragons. For me it was their post contact metres in terms of getting them on the front foot and getting them some quick ball.

"There's definitely a focus for us. I look back on the Six Nations when I look at territory and possession our territory in every game was less than the possession we had.

"We probably need to focus on being a bit smarter in the way we play and playing a little bit more territory. There were games where we had every team under pressure and played some good spells of rugby but not for long enough periods and not putting them under pressure for long enough.

"I think those are the learnings for us and for us to continue to focus on that building into the South Africa game and into the tour."

Do you still reflect on decisions you make in preparing the team and selection?

"Yeah absolutely. You always look back on selection whether you got that right, your game plan, your preparation and things you would do differently.

"We've made a collective decision as a group that we feel it's the right time to develop some youngsters and really improve the depth in the squad. We know to do that we've probably got to go through some pain, we've been through some pain.

"We may continue to do that but I do definitely see some light at the end of the tunnel. I'm excited by where we can potentially go.

"I was buoyed by period during that Six Nations where we did play well and we did put quality teams under a lot of pressure. We let the game against England slip, it was a terrible first half against Scotland but a really good second-half where we showed what we could potentially do.

"We were leading against France for 64 minutes until they brought their big boys on and put us under pressure. We had Ireland under pressure at 17-7 down and camped on in their 22.

"If we score there I don't think it changes the outcome but it does change the scoreline and the game. There's lots of things we can work on but it's also making sure we focus on the positives and making sure we look at the things we did do well."

How much have you seen of Cory Hill and Liam Williams recently?

"I've watched their games and stuff. To be fair to Cory he's been in the Vale quite a bit doing some training and he's been training with Leon Brown with the conditioners.

"Liam had some games but didn't have a lot of rugby in Japan but we'd spoken a while ago. He's very keen to be a part of the Wales set-up and he still thinks he's got a lot to offer us and he does in terms of his experiences, the X-factor that he does have.

"He'll be disappointed over the last couple of years the amount of injuries he's had. That's something we will focus on to manage him in the best way we possibly can in terms of trying to get him on the field as much as we can.

"He's definitely a player we think we can get through to the next World Cup."

What do you think Ben Thomas will bring to the team and can he give you a different dimension in attack?

"I thought Ben Thomas was excellent at the weekend. He looked comfortable on the ball, he created space. We were hoping earlier in the season we might have seen a bit more of him playing there.

"Cardiff felt at the time he was a midfielder, but they’ve now looked at that as a potential option for him. We have been pleased with his performances. Whoever we pick there it is going to take a bit of time, it doesn’t just happen overnight.

"It isn’t just the running game that is important. Control of the game is important and Neil Jenkins is going to have to do a lot of work with whoever we play there. Ben does gives us a different dimension

"We have looked at players who have had some time in the past at No 10 and played at age grade level. It’s not as though we are throwing in someone who has never experienced playing in that jersey. We are looking at someone in that position giving us a different dimension depending on who we are playing against.

"If someone is coming really hard down the 10 channel when you are playing a big physical side then you may need to match that with some physicality of your own. Those are the conversations we are having about that position."

Why have you selected Keelan Giles and Ellis Bevan?

"Ellis Bevan is a little bit different in that he gives you left foot kicking option. We have watched him and he gets to the ball well and he has some physicality about him

"For Keelan, he has been consistent with the Ospreys and he is an experienced player now. It was unfortunate that Theo Cabango got injured at the weekend because he was another option for us on the wing. That hamstring ruled him out of potentially being selected."

Did you consider selecting Tomas Francis and is he done with Wales?

"He hasn’t finished but we didn’t consider him at this stage. He made the decision to go and play in France, but we will stay in contact with him. He definitely hasn’t retired. When you look at the tight heads we’ve picked there is a real concern for us in terms of experience, as well as players not starting regularly."

What's the target this summer?

"I was trying to get as many games as we possibly could this summer. At one stage we were looking at playing Samoa, and I would have jumped at that, because this group of young players need as many games as they can possibly get to gain that experience.

"It is a lot of work for the coaching staff and we realised the challenge we’ve got, but it is our job to work them hard and make them better. They have to learn about the pressures of playing international rugby, how hard it is and what it takes to succeed.

"We are conscious there are a few holes in terms of depth in certain positions and we’ve got to increase the depth and competition for places. I’m really excited by the challenge of meeting the world champions Springboks and by what we can in terms of creating some confidence and self-belief in this group of players.

"South Africa will be missing a few players as well, but whatever team they put out we know they won’t be small – they’ll be big and physical. There's some young players in here that we're going to give some time to and there's probably a few players who were selected in the squad who need a kick up the arse as well, in terms of some of their performances and some of their testing results that weren’t good enough or what we expect from a national perspective.

"So, we are where we are at the moment. But like I said, I do see light at the end of the tunnel and we've just got to make sure that we get back to the expectations and we work incredibly hard to improve those performances and results."

You've decided to give Ryan Elias, Josh Adams and Will Rowlands have a break. How much of that is physical or mental? Do did you have those conversations?

"A bit of both. So, Ryan felt that he needed a break and stuff, just to recharge himself.

"Will, a little bit the same. It was tough because he'd come back from injury and then the birth of his daughter over that Six Nations period, and at one stage he wasn't going to be travelling backwards and forwards between games. But then Racing required him to go back and that made it difficult.

"So he's had a long season. The conversation with him - he's desperately proud to play for Wales and desperately wants to be part of the team going towards the next World Cup. The conversation with the players was about them.

"I said, ‘you've got to make what you feel is the best decision for you, not what's the best decision for Wales or what's the best decision for your club.’ It’s ‘what's the best decision for you personally in terms of whether you're available. I had the same conversation with Nick Tompkins, in terms of he'd come straight from the World Cup.

"He was excellent during the World Cup, he'd gone straight into Saracens, so he hadn't had much of a break. I said to him, I didn't think his form in the Six Nations was anywhere near as good as it was during the World Cup.

"He understood that and recognised that and we gave him the option of having a break and refreshing and having a good pre -season. He made a different decision. He came back and said he's desperate to go on tour and be part of, and continue to play for Wales.

"Each player is a little bit different. Josh was one was where really, he's got a few niggles. He hasn't been 100% fit and it was about getting himself right, having a good break.

"And I said, look, ‘We can take you to Australia. We know we can manage you during the week. Even if you're at 85%, you probably could do a job for us with your experience and the way that you can play.’

"But the best thing for him was to get his body right, to hopefully get him back to. In the Six Nations, again, he was probably at about 85% of where he could have possibly been.

"In the past, there's one or two opportunities that I would have expected him to score, the chances that he had with the ball. He's aware of that and understands that, and so by him having a break and getting himself right, hopefully, we can see him come back fully charged and ready to go at the start of the season, and be available for the autumn campaign.

Supporters demand results so what should their yardstick be for success on this tour results, performances, or a kick up the arse for certain players?

"Well, I'm not going to be talking to the supporters about who's getting a kick up the arse, that's for sure. We haven't talked about, I think, where we are as a team at the moment.

"The public want to see improvement. They want to see a group of players going out there and putting their jersey on and wearing it with pride and giving it 100%, and I can't question how the players tried during the Six Nations.

"There's no doubt that it was there, we just weren't accurate enough, and that was probably down to some lack of experience within the group, and we've got to build on that.

"But I'm well aware that there are always expectations, particularly at the international level and particularly in Wales, and that comes with the territory. So we'll be going out there and working as hard as we possibly can to give performances and hopefully get results."

Why haven't you selected Alex Mann?

"He's been carrying niggles and stuff and hasn't been played. I think there's a good chance for him to have a good pre-season, to look at getting in the gym, putting on a little bit of size.

"Probably someone like, Taine Plumtree, having that break and stuff, he's come back and definitely put some size on. I think with Alex, we know what a quality player is, he's definitely got a big future ahead of him.

"But it was tough for him, you know. He's not the biggest man in the world and he was just giving everything that he could give. But he was battered in terms of how much effort and performance he put in.

"He's got some skills that other players don't have and when you watch him at training, and watch him when you're reviewing games, he's got the ability to scan really well. He's looking around, he's looking at threats from a defensive perspective. He's also looking at options from an attacking perspective.

"He communicates exceptionally well. And those are things from a coaching thing that you look at with players in terms of can they go to the next level? Do they have the ability to play?

"There's not always a lot of players who can do that. There are players that we need to keep working on within this group, looking at their scanning, looking at their communication at this level. And it's a big work on for us.

"But I think the best thing for him at the moment is to have that break, have a good pre-season, get his body right, and look to get some good work done in the gym."