January 24, 2018 / 3:11 PM / 8 months ago

Rugby - Re-energised Gatland in at the deep end with injury-hit Wales

LONDON (Reuters) - Coach Warren Gatland says he feels refreshed after his British and Irish Lions interlude and he will need all that energy as his injury-ravaged Wales side get ready to host in-form Scotland in their Six Nations opener on Feb. 3.

Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship Launch - London, Britain - January 24, 2018 Wales head coach Warren Gatland and Alun Wyn Jones pose during the launch Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

Gatland handed the Welsh coaching reins to Rob Howley while he prepared and led the Lions to their drawn series in New Zealand last year but said on Wednesday that he was relishing his return to the day job.

“Time away with the Lions re-energises you,” he said at the Six Nations launch.

“You get a chance to work with other players and coaches but I’m excited to be back and I’m really looking forward to the Six Nations.

“People are writing us off, which is nice - I’m expecting us to do well.”

Gatland, however, will go in to that first match without Dan Biggar — who misses the first three games — fellow flyhalf Rhys Priestland, former captain Sam Warburton and star centre Jonathan Davies.

On Wednesday he revealed that fullback Liam Williams is also likely to miss the opener and possibly the whole tournament with a groin issue - the coach clearly unhappy that Williams’ English club Saracens had tried to treat the injury rather than dealing with it with an operation months ago.

Gatland explained that he and his assistants can be relatively experimental having had to be cautious in the last two years to secure their World Cup seeding.

“We’ve got three options at flyhalf with Owen Williams, Rhys Patchell and Gareth Anscombe and from an attacking perspective, it’s pretty exciting in terms of which way we go,” he said.

“The exciting thing is that we’re going to pick a player who hasn’t started in that position in the Six Nations. Opposition teams know Dan Biggar pretty well, so we could potentially have a flyhalf that the opposition don’t know a lot about.”

Gatland was quick to rebuff the suggestion that Wales had looked to add more variety to their attack under Howley after years of power-based “Warrenball”, saying the approach was more often based on availability than philosophy.

“I think we’ve always been expansive,” he said. “We’ve had an attacking focus depending on personnel. Making sure you can use quick ball or using physical players like George North and Jamie Roberts to get across gain line and play off that, you’ve got to balance your attack.

“If you have a different player at 12 then that changes.”

After winning back to back titles in 2012 and 2013 Wales have dropped off in recent seasons and finished fifth last year after three defeats.

Gatland, however, said that was a reflection of the strength of the competition and pointed out that in three of those seasons they still lost only one game.

“We’re pleased at how we’ve done. Our win ratio is about 75 percent since I’ve been involved,” he said. “I think it’s a fantastic record but its a tough tournament to win.”

Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Keith Weir

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