Warren Gatland relishing Ireland ‘challenge’ in first game back as Wales boss

Wales boss Warren Gatland says he is relishing the prospect of a “fantastic” Guinness Six Nations opener against world number one team Ireland.

Gatland’s second spell in charge of Wales will begin with a fierce reintroduction to Test match rugby.

After the final year of his previous reign delivered a Six Nations title and Grand Slam in 2019, Gatland will be reunited with a tournament he describes as “the best rugby competition in the world”.

Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland (centre) enjoyed considerable Six Nations success during his first spell as Wales head coach (Simon Galloway/PA)

Either side of a 2021 title success, Wales had two fifth-place finishes under Wayne Pivac.

Prior to Gatland’s departure from Wales after the 2019 World Cup, Wales recorded a 70 per cent Six Nations success rate across the 12 tournaments that took place during his tenure.

Wales won the Six Nations four times, including three Grand Slams, which was a record that none of their rivals could top.

“It (Six Nations) is completely different to the autumn series, where there is an opportunity to try things out,” Gatland said.

“The Six Nations is when points are at stake, and that kind of replicates in some way the World Cup, where the aim initially is to get out of your pool.

“For us, it is about hopefully hitting the ground running and just making sure we have a Six Nations campaign where, first of all, we are competitive.

“Having Ireland first up is going to be a challenge against the number one team in the world, but having them first up is fantastic.

“The first thing is to see those players wearing that (Wales) jersey with incredible pride and giving a performance that reflects the hard work they’ve put in.

Stephen Jones
Stephen Jones is currently one of Wales’ assistant coaches (David Davies/PA)

“If we do that, we have got a chance of having a good Six Nations and then we can build on that towards France and the World Cup.”

Gatland is expected to arrive in Wales next week, with the Six Nations planning set to start immediately as he builds towards the Ireland clash on February 4.

Among his early tasks will be deciding on the make-up of his coaching support staff, which under Pivac featured Stephen Jones, Jonathan Humphreys, Gethin Jenkins and Neil Jenkins.

He also needs to give initial thoughts regarding a Six Nations squad ahead of announcing it probably in mid-January, with Welsh derbies in the United Rugby Championship over Christmas and new year making for important viewing.

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“I wouldn’t have taken this on unless I felt I could make a difference,” Gatland added.

“The Six Nations, for me, is the best rugby competition in the world and I’ve always loved being part of that. Then there is the excitement about building towards a World Cup.

“The great thing about World Cups is that it is a real opportunity to get proper preparation time to really work hard at your game.”