By Graham Thomas
Warren Gatland has been backed to make a success of his second stint in charge of Wales – but it won’t be pretty, according to the man who ground out more victories than most.
JPR Williams enjoyed a phenomenal success rate of over 70 per cent in 55 Tests for Wales and believes Gatland can restore the winning habit when his second stint in charge begins with Wales’ opening Six Nations match against Ireland.
“I think if anyone can put up a decent show, it’ll be him,” says Williams of Gatland ahead of the Ireland clash, which is live on S4C on Saturday.
“He showed it last time he was with us. He did remarkably well.
“I didn’t particularly like a lot of the rugby we played, but at least we were winning. And that is what we all play sport for – to win.”
It’s an uncompromising verdict from the Wales legend of the Seventies who was always considered to have provided the cold steel within the flashing blades of the back line runners around him.
Williams famously played 11 matches against England and never lost. Against Ireland, his record was almost as good – eight wins, one draw and just one defeat in 10 Tests.
But much of the modern game as played by Wales and others leaves Williams frustrated, especially the lack of adventure shown by many players wearing his old No.15 jersey.
Asked if any of the full-backs such as Leigh Halfpenny or Liam Williams excite him much these days with ball in hand, the three-times Grand Slam winner and double Lions tourist admits: “Not really.
“The game so structured now. It’s nice to occasionally see people running with the ball, but it’s mostly scrum-halves who I like best these days.
“Antoine Dupont for France is fantastic and I love Danny Care. Why he’s not in the England team any more, I do not know. He’s still an outstanding player.”
Williams does not expect a great deal of free-spirited adventure when Ireland arrive in Cardiff, burdened by the expectation of being firm favourites for this match and the title as the official No.1 team in the world.
“A lot of this box-kicking players do nowadays, I cannot understand. It just seems to me they are giving the ball away.
“Dare I say it, sometimes I prefer to watch rugby league!
Here's the Wales team to face Ireland: pic.twitter.com/PoZCd9893x
— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) January 31, 2023
“The issue for Gatland, for me, is whether he can find a front five. Our scrum has been poor and you can’t win a game of rugby if you don’t have the ball. So, it will be interesting to see what effect Gatland has there.”
While Williams believes Gatland can return a more ruthless edge to Wales’ game – certainly more than his predecessor Wayne Pivac managed – his former Lions and Barbarians teammate from the Seventies, Ireland legend Mike Gibson, reckons any Welsh revival will not begin this weekend.
Gibson, who played alongside Williams in the 1971 Lions team that conquered New Zealand as well as the famous 1973 Barbarians side, reckons current Ireland coach Andy Farrell is the man who will come out on top in his head-to-head with Gatland.
“Although the match is in Wales, which makes it difficult, Ireland would probably start as favourites,” says former centre Gibson who won 69 caps for Ireland.
Against Wales, his record was four wins in 14 attempts, but Gibson reckons the tide has turned and currently flows in Ireland’s favour.
“I think they have every reason to be confident and to be proud of what they have achieved. It’s a wonderful period for Irish rugby.
“The quality of the Irish game has attracted spectators. People are really interested.
— Mike Pearce Rugby (@MPsportsdragon) February 2, 2023
“They watch the quality of Leinster, and from an international point of view Andy Farrell has been instrumental in allowing the side to play, to gain confidence, and the forwards are capable of dominating teams.
“We are number one in the world – that is something beyond dreams.
“The burden of being a favourite creates its own difficulties, but the expectation of the Ireland team is one of they can beat anybody. Everybody is making good sound decisions when they are in possession, which is key.”
S4C: Saturday, 1.30pm – Clwb Rygbi Rhyngwladol: Wales v Ireland
Live coverage of Wales v Ireland in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations from the Principality Stadium