Six Nations 2014: Wales head coach Warren Gatland defends tactics
Six Nations 2014: Warren Gatland defends his tactics during the championship as Wales finished third
Warren Gatland has defended his tactics after a disappointing Six Nations which saw the reigning champions finish third.
The Kiwi, who guided Wales to Grand Slam glory in 2012 and another title in 2013 before a successful British and Irish Lions tour of Australia in the summer, has come under criticism for the ‘Warrenball’ game plan as Wales lost on the road to Ireland and England.
But Wales had comfortable outings at the Millennium Stadium against France and Scotland after a rusty opening performance against Italy.
Despite the contrasting fortunes on the road, Gatland still believes in giving his players the freedom to win within the pre-planned framework.
“[The players] are encouraged to think for themselves and it was disappointing there were occasions when they didn’t,” Gatland told WalesOnline.
“I wouldn’t have expected Jamie Roberts to have kicked the ball away in the England 22 with a three on two. He knew straightaway it was the wrong thing.
“And Dan Lydiate is shouting for the ball outside George North in the first half, but George doesn’t hear him and kicks.”
Perhaps the harshest criticism was reserved for the 29-18 defeat by England at Twickenham, albeit just Wales’s third defeat in three years in the Six Nations.
Scarlets outside-half Rhys Priestland orchestrated a shambolic kicking display with Wales’ backs opting not to put pressure on their free-running English counterparts, and Gatland admits the plan was poorly executed.
“We went into the England game with a kicking strategy to cross-kick for our wingers and put in little chips to stop England’s rush defence, but we didn’t execute,” he added.
“We cross-kicked once and Alex Cuthbert has caught it, but we didn’t do it again and not once did we do a chip over the top to turn England around.
“If we are going to keep kicking we need to compete more for the ball in the air. We also need to keep ball in hand and counter-attack more.
“We turned over the ball too much when we had it but, even with all that, we created two or three clear try-scoring chances against England we needed to finish. Then it would have been a different game.”
Much has been made about Gatland exposing the intricacies of the ‘Warrenball’ philosophy to British and Irish counterparts on the Lions tour – a game plan which has served Wales well against the northern hemisphere sides of late.
Only Scotland—who had one of their Lions players Stuart Hogg red carded in Cardiff—failed to take advantage of that knowledge.
“It’s an easy one for people to criticise tactics but sometimes it’s the execution,” Gatland said. “Some people call our tactics ‘Warrenball’. Well, what is Warrenball?
“I can honestly say our players are encouraged to run from our 22 if it’s on. I don’t know how many times we have said that. We go through those scenarios in training.
“Nobody is more frustrated than our coaches – Neil Jenkins is pulling his hair out.”
Wales certainly showed their running game against Scotland with no full-back as they ran in six of their seven tries with Hogg off the pitch, but Gatland admits there is a level of luck involved as well, and it didn’t come their way this time round.
“I still feel, when we get things right, we are able to create chances and it just shows at this level, against the best sides, you have to be right on the day and need a little bit of luck,” he added.
“For example, Ireland had a bit of luck against France to win the Six Nations.
“It was a bit disappointing. We have high expectations and people on the outside also have them. It was a mixture between a couple of good and a couple of bad performances.”