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We’re Raw, We’re Green And We’re Written Off . . . It’s Fine, Says Wales Coach Warren Gatland

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By David Williams

Warren Gatland believes Wales can make a virtue out of a Six Nations squad that is young, raw and still wet behind the ears.

The Wales coach reckons the boldness of youth and Welsh players’ earlier exposure to Test rugby than their rivals can all reap rewards in the tournament that begins next week.

Gatland has named five uncapped players in his squad for the tournament, with 21-year-old Exeter lock Dafydd Jenkins taking over from an injured Jac Morgan as captain.

Wales kick off their campaign against Scotland on February 3 – then face successive appointments with England, Ireland and France – and Gatland knows that momentum is key.

“There is a bit of doom and gloom, and people will take that narrative, but I don’t see it like that,” he said.

“I see it as a reset of the regions financially, with the support of the union (Welsh Rugby Union), and the 19, 20 and 21-year-olds now have an opportunity they wouldn’t have had in the past.

“Of all the Tier One nations we are the one with the smallest playing base, so when we see some talent sometimes we’ve got to expose them and see if you can fast-track them.

“It is not about age or experience, it is about allowing that talent to develop.

“It is definitely thinking about the future – not just for this cycle and the next World Cup, but the one after.

“We’ve got five new caps and eight who have never played in the Six Nations. They will learn and develop from that experience, but that doesn’t mean we are not taking the competition seriously.

“Our first game against Scotland is incredibly important. It is one game at a time, and the first one is hugely-important for us at home.”

Morgan and his World Cup co-skipper Dewi Lake are long-term absentees, while injury has also sidelined number eight Taulupe Faletau, star wing Louis Rees-Zammit has quit rugby to try and forge a career in American football, and the likes of Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny have retired from Test rugby.

Almost half of Gatland’s 34-strong squad have not yet hit double figures in terms of caps, and that collective inexperience has contributed to Wales being written off in many quarters as genuine Six Nations contenders.

“What I have looked at with where we are at right now is we have a group of really talented young players and a couple who are injured at the moment in Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake, who I think are going to be world-class,” said Gatland, speaking at the Six Nations media launch in Dublin.

“I see this as a chance to mould some talented youngsters and give them an opportunity to take control of how they want this team to operate in terms of working with the coaches and setting standards. That is what really excites me.

“We go into the Six Nations with people probably not having too much expectation on us or writing us off, and that is always a nice position to be in.

“It is often said about Wales that you write us off at your peril, because we will work incredibly hard.

“It’s one game at a time, and if we start well against Scotland we will build confidence and momentum. The thing with Welsh players is they become incredibly tough to beat, and that is what I am pinning my hopes on anyway.”

Although Welsh regional rugby is currently operating in a testing financial climate that continues to hit all four professional teams, Gatland is upbeat about developing a largely new-look playing group of youngsters.

But he may also turn to 33-year-old Rhys Ruddock to fill some of the gaps left by injuries to regulars like Faletau.

The former Ireland captain becomes available to Wales after the first two rounds of the tournament and Gatland confirmed the flanker – son of Grand Slam-winning Wales coach Mike Ruddock – is fimyl on Wales’ radar.

“We understand that he is available at some stage during the tournament,” added Gatland.

“Given his age, he is not playing a lot or starting a lot for Leinster. But we know what a quality player he is.

“He made his decision a number of years ago in terms of his allegiance with Ireland, and we respect that, but we have had a couple of conversations about him and we have spoken to his dad as well, and we understand that he is potentially available going forward.”

Wales head into the SIx Nations with a number of key back row figures missing. Morgan, Faletau, Christ Tshiunza and Taine Plumtree will all miss the entire competition.

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