Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Wales hoping for salvation from Gatland

Kiwi-born coach will focus on gameplan to suit hosts' skills and unsettle All Blacks.

When it comes to Wales coach Warren Gatland, it's all a matter of timing.

A desire to coach in Super rugby did not coincide with a suitable exit from his northern hemisphere commitments.

His nasty holiday accident at his Waihi bach and rehab problems meant he missed being at the helm for Wales' mid-year tour, while he has been on Lions selection duty for the first few weeks of their November campaign.

Now he will ride back into Cardiff, not quite in shining silver armour on the white steed, but the nation is looking to their Kiwi-born coach for some salvation this weekend against the All Blacks.

That recovery package looks some way in the distance on the evidence of Wales' leaden losses to Argentina then Samoa.

But few would have picked the Wallabies to get past England, after that injury-ravaged side had been taken to the cleaners by France a week before.

Even England, so the theory went, would be too strong for the tourists.

Up jumped the jolly swagman while the sweet chariot swung lower.

Gatland will be working on that sort of theory this week as he looks to assemble a team which has the right wit and fortitude as he works on a gameplan which will suit their skills and unsettle the All Blacks.

After Wales have slid to five successive defeats, Gatland has been tasked to produce a rescue package. He has to see that as a challenge to relish.

He has not been tarnished too much by events since the World Cup, where Wales were an encouraging unit before pushing on to be Grand Slam champions.

His return coincides with the All Blacks' arrival in Cardiff. It will be fascinating to see what sparks there are off the pitch because some observers felt that when Gatland and the All Blacks' paths crossed about 10 days ago in Edinburgh, there was a coolness about their connection.

Perhaps there is a bit of history there, an old score to settle because of past comments or deeds, or maybe it is plain old coaching rivalry.

The All Blacks arrive in Cardiff after the squad put on comfortable margins against Scotland and Italy, if not the same quality of performance in the last weekend in Rome.

They are on an unbeaten stretch of 19 tests, with the only glitch the 18-all stalemate against the Wallabies in Brisbane, while Wales are in a downward spiral and can't shake a losing habit.

Now Gatland has reappeared. What will he do? What can he do?

He has some fine backs such as Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts and Mike Phillips, but there are some modest ingredients in between, while up front there are growing issues of impotency.

His World Cup and Grand Slam captain Sam Warburton was dropped for the last test as a run of ineffective displays continued. His standards seem to symbolise Wales' issue of a lack of bite to their play.

Gat's back

Coaching highlights
Ireland 1998-2001: Beat France in Paris for the first time since 1972.
London Wasps 2002-05: Premiership titles in 2003, 04, 05; Heineken Cup 04.
Waikato 2005-07: Won NPC in 2006.
Wales 2007: Grand Slam 2008, 12; semifinal of 2011 RWC.
Lions 2013: Appointed head coach for tour to Australia.

- NZ Herald

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