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According to Warren Gatland, Wales' achievements may have masked underlying issues in their domestic sports scene.
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According to Warren Gatland, Wales’ achievements may have masked underlying issues in their domestic sports scene.

Warren Gatland is not completely convinced that Welsh regional rugby will go through the necessary reset that he believes it needs.

Wales face Six Nations title ­favourites Ireland in Dublin on Saturday and the contrast between two longstanding 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 past 10 Six Nations fixtures, and off the field it is a similar case of chalk and cheese.

Ireland is benefiting from a system where players are contracted centrally, which supports strong and successful provincial teams. Meanwhile, Wales’ four professional regions are bracing for budget cuts that will be implemented next season. When questioned about the main contrast between Irish and Welsh rugby, Gatland stated: “I believe they [Ireland] have established the correct structures.”

“In the past, between 2007 and 2019, we may have been ignoring the underlying issues in Welsh rugby. Now, we have a chance to start fresh, but I am uncertain if our regions will truly take advantage of it.”

You may have experienced moments where it felt like you were on a sinking boat, frantically trying to patch up the leaks. There is still much to be done. It took a considerable amount of time in Ireland, but their provincial teams’ success has positively impacted their national team’s performance.

“We were likely the opposite before. We were the inverse. Currently, we are probably representative of our respective regions. We need to consider ways to bridge that divide.”

According to Gatland, it is essential to have the proper infrastructure in place at Wales’ four professional regions, namely Cardiff, Scarlets, Ospreys, and Dragons.

“I consistently emphasize the importance of infrastructure in creating a successful environment for athletes. This includes having the necessary strength and conditioning coaches, medical staff, qualified coaches, top-notch training facilities, and well-maintained grounds. It’s crucial to focus on setting up a strong infrastructure before even considering the players, as it lays the foundation for building a strong team.”

“My recommendation to all regions is to not be concerned about players. Instead, focus on investing in your facilities and hiring the right people for your environment, even if it means selecting younger players for your squad.”

Wales head coach Warren Gatland watches his team in training

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During the match at Aviva Stadium on Saturday, Gatland stated that despite being labeled as underdogs, it was not a source of motivation for his team. Instead, they were motivated by the pressure they put on themselves to improve from their previous two games. Throughout the week, the team has emphasized the importance of facing this challenge without fear and embracing it with excitement.

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Ciarán Frawley has been chosen to replace the injured Hugo Keenan and will be making his first start for Ireland in a Test match. The 26-year-old, who is capable of playing multiple positions, has previously made two appearances as a substitute, one of which was during the championship opener against France.

Unfortunately, due to a knee injury sustained in the round-two win against Italy, Keenan will not be able to play in the upcoming match against Wales. Despite this, he has been a consistent presence in his country’s number 15 jersey for the past three years.

Ireland’s coach, Andy Farrell, has selected uncapped Munster prop Oli Jager to be among the replacements. There are seven new players in the starting lineup from the previous game against Italy on 11 February, including captain Peter O’Mahony, prop Tadhg Furlong, and centre Bundee Aki who have recovered from injuries. Additionally, lock Tadhg Beirne, scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, and flanker Josh van der Flier have been brought back into the team.

James Ryan, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, and Stuart McCloskey have been replaced by a bench consisting of six forwards and two backs. Finlay Bealham and Craig Casey have been excluded from the matchday 23 after starting in the Italy game. Iain Henderson, who injured his foot while playing for Ulster, is not playing, and Garry Ringrose is still absent due to a shoulder problem.

Source: theguardian.com