March 9, 2019 / 6:15 PM / 7 months ago

Gatland hails Welsh resilience after week of turmoil

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Wales rugby coach Warren Gatland hailed the mental fortitude of his players on Saturday after they shrugged off a tumultuous start to the week to record an 18-11 victory over hosts Scotland that kept them on track for a Six Nations grand slam.

Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - Scotland v Wales - BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Britain - March 9, 2019 Wales' head coach Warren Gatland before the match REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Wales published their team selection for Saturday’s game two days early on Tuesday after Gatland said their preparations had been disrupted by a midweek furore over British media reports of a possible merger between regional Welsh sides Scarlets and Ospreys.

“This is a fantastic group of men, they’re pretty tight and close but there’s no doubt Monday and Tuesday had an impact on the players,” Gatland said.

“In fairness to them after that early part of week they’ve got on with their jobs, I take my hats off to them about how they’ve dug deep,” he said.

Gatland said the players’ defensive drills on Tuesday had been subdued and poor, as both the 13 players in the Welsh matchday squad directly affected by the talks and the wider team struggled to cope with uncertainty over the regional sides’ futures.

The proposed merger, mooted as a way of heading off the difficult financial circumstances facing the regional sides, later in the week collapsed despite an earlier statement from Welsh Rugby Union’s Professional Rugby Board saying a deal had been struck. [nL3N20T35Y]

Wales had to show similar fortitude on the pitch on Saturday, weathering a sustained Scotland comeback in the second half that at one point looked like it might end the visitors’ dreams of a first grand slam since 2012. [nL5N20W0ED]

Wales now eye a grand slam decider at home against Ireland on March 16, hopefully bolstered by the reassuring presence of Liam Williams despite the influential fullback going off with his arm slung in his shirt in the second half on Saturday.

“It’s just a stinger and he’s come through, it’s nothing serious,” Gatland said.

Gatland also hit back at the idea of reducing the Six Nations to a five-week tournament with back-to-back games.

“I don’t think the Celtic nations could survive in a five-week tournament, England and France could cope but Scotland, Ireland, and Wales have not got the numbers, we wouldn’t cope with just the four [Welsh regional] teams,” he said.

Reporting By Lawrence White; editing by Tony Lawrence

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