Wales issue world cup marker

Welsh trounce Ireland for Six Nations crown, while England slip up in draw with Scotland

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones holding aloft the Six Nations championship trophy after beating defending champions Ireland and completing the Grand Slam in Cardiff on Saturday.
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones holding aloft the Six Nations championship trophy after beating defending champions Ireland and completing the Grand Slam in Cardiff on Saturday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Former Wales captain Sam Warburton feels the depth coach Warren Gatland has created puts the Six Nations champions among the leading contenders heading to this year's World Cup in Japan.

Wales convincingly beat defending champions Ireland 25-7 - their 14th straight Test win - in Cardiff on Saturday to claim the Grand Slam and a first Six Nations triumph since 2013.

And Warburton believes the side now have no peer, bar the world champions, the All Blacks.

In his column for The Times of London yesterday, he said: "Wales deserved to win this and it sets them up so nicely. I don't want to get too excited but, because South Africa and Australia are not the sides they once were, Wales have a real chance in the World Cup.

"If somebody else beat New Zealand and knocked them out of the tournament, as a Welsh fan, you would be thinking, 'Oh my God, this is on'. Basically, New Zealand are the only team I would really worry about Wales playing."

Warburton, who retired last year owing to injury, also revealed the team's success was "no accident" as Gatland, a New Zealander, has been working for years to bring Wales' best young talent through.

The 30-year-old said: "He now has more resources. He puts more faith in youngsters and tried players unlike other coaches. Take Liam Williams. People forget that 18 months before Gats picked him, he was a scaffolder. Now look at him."

Hailing Gatland for "changing the psychology of the nation", Warburton added: "He took over a nation of underachievers and now, we expect to win the Six Nations."

His successor, Alun Wyn Jones, also agreed the confidence exuded by Gatland, who has announced that he will be leaving his post with Wales after the Sept 20-Nov 2 World Cup, had "filtered down" to the rest of the squad.

He told reporters: "I don't want to be too romantic about it with him sitting here but... we've come under some pressure over the years and it takes a certain type of character to come through the mire.

"He's pretty much the guy who has done that... I'm really proud for such a small nation to be able to do that. Proud is the word - for everything we represent, we just try to show that. If you work hard enough, you get your rewards."

But, unlike high-flying Wales, England were a bundle of nerves at Twickenham, surrendering a 31-0 lead to draw 38-all with Scotland in their last competitive match before the World Cup.

This is the third time in recent months England have slipped up despite being in the driver's seat and coach Eddie Jones conceded it was now "a recurring theme for us".

Admitting England had been "seduced by the scoreboard", the Australian said: "It was 100 per cent mental, we've experienced this where we've taken control, let our foot off the gas and then been unable to get control of it back."

Jones also called on his players to learn from "these sorts of lessons", before insisting "there's not one area we need to fix, apart from our ability just to be able to regain ourselves".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2019, with the headline 'Wales issue world cup marker'. Subscribe