Warren Gatland hopeful Wales will deliver at World Cup despite poor Six Nations
Head coach Warren Gatland and captain Ken Owens are confident that Wales will make a World Cup impact despite an underwhelming Guinness Six Nations campaign.
Wales suffered a fourth defeat in five games when they were beaten 41-28 by France in Paris.
It meant they finished fifth in the tournament, with only Italy below them, although a gutsy second-half display that produced tries for Bradley Roberts, Tomos Williams and Rio Dyer delivered a losing bonus-point.
It was Wales’ 13th loss from the last 17 Tests, while Australia and Fiji loom large in their World Cup pool later this year, with only two teams going through to the quarter-finals.
🤝 Merci pour ce beau match @FranceRugby and DIOLCH to all the support home and away ❤️#WelshRugby | #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/sqEfGWP8XR
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏴 (@WelshRugbyUnion) March 18, 2023
Wales have just three games left before the World Cup opener against Fiji on September 10 – warm-up fixtures against England (twice) and South Africa in August.
“We will surprise some teams in the World Cup by how good we will be and how much we will improve having that time together to prepare,” Gatland said.
“We have taken steps in the right direction during this campaign but we have a lot of work to do.
“We have developed some youngsters who will learn from these experiences, and we will review stuff and what are the things we need to keep working on to not allow some of those soft tries we did concede.
“Today against a team like that when they get on top of you (Wales trailed 34-7 early in the second half), they can really punish you. A bit like the All Blacks.
“But the boys didn’t capitulate. They showed some heart and character. That is what we are looking for as a starting point.
“Some of the variation in the second half in terns of our game-management was much better. We put a few little kicks in behind and varied it nicely. I was pleased with the ambition of what the players were trying to achieve.”
Owens added: “From the outset, we knew we wouldn’t be in a 12-9 arm-wrestle. We knew we had to score tries and we showed that.
“I am confident we will get better the more time we have together with that conditioning work and putting ourselves under pressure in training.
“That will solve those inaccuracies in our game that we’ve seen throughout the tournament.
“Personally, for me and a lot of the boys, it probably will be our last Six Nations game. It’s got to come at some point.
“I have seen enough over the last eight weeks of the work that the players, management and coaches are putting in. One thing with Welsh people, we work very hard.
“The more time as a Welsh team we spend together, the better we get. We will raise some eyebrows at the World Cup.”
Wales led through an early George North try that Dan Biggar converted, yet France proved unstoppable on the occasions they reached for the turbo button.
Wing Damian Penaud (2) and centres Jonathan Danty and Gael Fickou scored tries, together with prop Uini Atonio, with full-back Thomas Ramos kicking five conversions and two penalties.
Wales, to their credit, kept going in the second half, with Biggar (twice) and Leigh Halfpenny adding conversions to tries that ensured France did not win by a landslide margin.
Owens, meanwhile, became a father again on Thursday, leaving Wales’ training camp in Nice two days earlier to be with his wife Carys, and then flew from Wales to Paris on Friday morning.
“Obviously, I haven’t trained much this week. That is probably why I was hooked (taken off) on 45 minutes,” Owens said.
“I was proud of Carys and becoming a father again. Everything went OK and it will be back to the family. Hopefully, Dwayne Peel (Scarlets head coach) will give me a nice little week off to enjoy with the family.”