Gatland drops injury bomb
THE World Cup has waited the best part of seven weeks for the delivery of a "Gatland Grenade" and it has finally arrived. The Wales coach, Warren Gatland, is still hurting over the dismissal of his captain, Sam Warburton, in the early stages of last weekend's semi-final with France, as he made abundantly clear while confirming his side for Friday night's bronze-medal contest with the Wallabies. He repeated his view that Alain Rolland, the Irish referee, could and should have made a different call in respect of Warburton's tip-tackle on the wing Vincent Clerc and underlined the point in unexpected fashion.
"When we lost Adam Jones [probably the world's best tight-head prop] to injury in the opening minutes and then lost Sam, we had a discussion in the coach's box about faking an injury to another prop and going to uncontested scrums, which would have helped us," he revealed. "We didn't do it because we felt it wasn't the correct thing to do: in terms of morality and the spirit of a World Cup semi-final, it wouldn't have been fair or right. That was our decision."
The International Rugby Board, which is said to be "privately stunned" by Gatland's comments, said yesterday that it is to review the coach's claim that he considered cheating. The Board attempts to guard against players faking injuries by having doctors at pitch-side to assess them.
Gatland went on to re-assess Rolland's red-card call: "I honestly think he made the wrong decision. Under the rules and regulations, he was perfectly entitled to show Sam a red card, but every game is different and you have to take into account the circumstances, the situation, whether or not there was intent. All of those things considered, and given Alain Rolland's experience, a yellow card would have been right. I've spoken to Paddy O'Brien [the International Rugby Board's referee manager] about this and he supports Alain 100 per cent, as I would expect him to do. But I'm disappointed. The top referees are appointed to their positions because they're meant to make the right calls."
Gatland said he was still feeling "hollow and empty" following the events of the weekend and it was understandable that he should try to make his point anew. And while he was not comparing like with like - however unsympathetic Rolland's decision may have been, the referee was hardly guilty of the kind of sharp practice involved in faking a front-row injury - he made it powerfully. Rugby is not a game that lends itself to hard and fast applications of the letter of the law. The best officials understand that and make allowances accordingly.
Happily, the Welsh are preparing themselves for a proper tilt at a podium finish on Friday. The back division will be the same that started against France, while the Ospreys prop Paul James and the Cardiff Blues lock Bradley Davies will feature in the tight-forward department - James because of the injury to Adam Jones, Davies in place of Alun Wyn Jones, who must be satisfied with a seat on the bench. In the back row, Toby Faletau, outstanding at No 8 against the French, moves to the open-side berth in place of the suspended Warburton, with Ryan Jones filling the gap.
Gatland was refreshingly honest about the problems at outside-half - missed kicks at goal, flawed game management - that cost Wales so dearly at the weekend. "I think both James Hook and Stephen Jones were disappointed with the way they played against France: in fact, it's testament to how well Rhys Priestland has played in that position during this tournament," he said, referring to the injured Scarlets stand-off who made such an impression over the opening games. "We're giving James the chance on Friday night to show everyone that he's better than he looked in the semi-final."