Warren Gatland rarely fails to take an opportunity to rile Ireland and even before a so-called warm-up game — and the mischievous side in him could still play a trick or two on Wales’ rivals.
The Wales coach revealed he has already held private talks with Irish counterpart Joe Schmidt ahead of Saturday’s international in Cardiff.
The two Kiwi coaches were keen to get a steer from each other on how the other was treating the opening game of their warm-up schedule, building towards the World Cup. After all, it makes sense. A mismatch between a second-string and first-choice opposition would do little for either side.
Gatland has mix-and-matched his team that includes four new caps, with a further two debutant on the bench, though the coach was quick to highlight his match-day squad also featured six British & Irish Lions.
The Wales coach let slip Schmidt looks set to follow suit with his selection as a means of assessing his options. However, the cordialities could once again stumble over the subject of the Millennium Stadium roof. It became a sore subject during the Six Nations where tournament rules indicate the game must be ‘open’ unless both teams agree to shut the roof. However, for a non-tournament game such as this Saturday, it remains Wales’ prerogative. “Joe rang me last week to talk about what we were looking at,” said Gatland. “I said we were going to have a mixed squad with some young and some experienced. He indicated they were going to do the same thing and experiment with a few things.
“He proceeded to ask me what’s happening with the roof… I said it’s a bit ironic you wanted it open during the Six Nations and now you want it closed! I think he was hoping it was going to be pouring down with rain during the Six Nations. Now I suspect he wants it closed because it will be closed during the World Cup. There was a cynical side of me that felt like saying we’re going to leave it open.”
Ireland open their World Cup account at the Millennium on September 19 against Canada. They will then return, following two games in London, for the potential pool decider against France. Should Ireland progress, their quarter-final will also be in the Welsh capital.
Among the new faces Ireland will face this weekend is Gloucester flanker Ross Moriarty, son of former Wales international Paul and nephew of ex-Wales captain Richard.
The pair enjoyed a notorious reputation together for Swansea during the 1980s and Gatland reckons the younger model, who won the Junior World Cup with England, is proving a chip off the old block.
“It’s not a coup for us to get Ross back from England. It was a coup for them to have him in the U20s after his father played for Wales!” exclaimed Gatland.
“There’s a bit of a nasty side about him that fits into the rugby mould. He had a surprise when he came into the squad and saw how hard these players work. That took a few of the new boys a couple of days to come to terms with. But he’s fitted in well and I’m looking forward to seeing how he goes.”
Moriarty’s Gloucester team-mate James Hook has also been handed a chance to impress. The 77-cap Grand Slam winner has made just one start in three years for Wales. Hook said: “It has been tough watching the Six Nations from afar but that has spurred me on.“Moving to France and then Gloucester probably hampered my international career but reaching this World Cup would mean more than either of the previous tournaments.”
Ospreys wing Eli Walker, Bath lock Dominic Day and Newport Gwent Dragons teeanger Tyler Morgan also win their first caps.
WALES: H Amos; A Cuthbert, T Morgan, S Williams (capt), E Walker; J Hook, M Phillips; N Smith, R Hibbard, A Jarvis, J Ball, D Day, R Moriarty, J Tipuric, D Baker.
Replacements: R Evans, K Dacey, S Andrews, J King, T Faletau, L Williams, G Anscombe, M Morgan.
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