Warren Gatland believes Wales and England are at opposite ends of the rugby spectrum as both nations head towards next year’s World Cup.
The Wales coach could not help himself from comparing his team’s exploits on tour with the struggles of the old enemy, who suffered a sixth straight defeat when they lost the second Test and the series against South Africa at the weekend.
While Red Rose head coach Eddie Jones comes under increasing pressure and scrutiny, all is rosy in the Welsh garden after they sealed a first series victory in Argentina since 1999 and jumped above England in the world rankings.
Gatland’s side are now up to third spot in the world rankings after a comprehensive 30-12 victory over the Pumas made it three straight successes this month.
“The difference between where we are and where England are is poles apart,” Gatland said. “New Zealand are still pretty good, there’s Ireland, and South Africa look like they’re coming good too.
“But we’re in a good place and we know when we put out our best side – what that is at the moment I’m not sure – we’re able to compete with the big boys.
“We’ve really suffocated Argentina in the last two weeks and that’s been a huge plus.”
Wales left their big guns resting at home this summer and their young squad was supposed to suffer both against the Springboks in Washington and in South America. The opposite has proved true.
Gatland’s next generation of stars have stood up and while Jones deals with a woeful run of results and a lack of player confidence and real squad depth, Wales look very handily placed.
Their clinical win in Santa Fe saw their line speed in defence really stand out. The Pumas simply couldn’t cope and nor could they deal with Wales at the contact area or set-piece.
Wales scored through Josh Adams and Hallam Amos and Rhys Patchell kicked 20 points.
So, what about victory in Japan, Warren?
“The last two World Cups have shown with the right preparation, we can get a good side together,” Gatland said. “We should have made a semi-final in 2015 – we lost the lead to South Africa with a few minutes to go – and in 2011 we should have reached a World Cup final.
“We’re in the best place we have been in since preceding those last two World Cups and if we don’t pick up too many injuries in the next 12 months or so and our planning and preparation goes to plan, then we’ll be in a really good place.”
Even a late red card for Ross Moriarty – the No 8 reacted to being held by Nicolas Sanchez and choked the Argentine fly-half – failed to take the gloss off Wales’ fine three weeks.
Wales’ American adventure had its critics – World Rugby supremo Agustin Pichot included – but once again Gatland has had the last laugh. Now his task is to somehow pick a squad for the start of next season when he must combine a legion of returning stars with his summer prodigies.
It’s an unenviable assignment.
“There have been many times when people have been critical of me or the team and then we’ve ended up on the right side of the ledger. I think you have to be careful of doing that,” Gatland said. “This tour achieved all the things I wanted and it’s put us in good stead for next year. In the past we haven’t had a lot of depth and we’ve spent time just looking for people who can do a job.
“Now I hope four or five of the loose forwards get injured next year because it’s going to be one hell of a headache trying to narrow that down to five or six based on the way the guys have performed.”