Six Nations 2023: Wales coach Warren Gatland considered dropping older players

Six Nations 2023: Wales coach Warren Gatland considered dropping older players

Warren Gatland (right) and Wayne Pivac are among four New Zealanders to have coached Wales, along with Steve Hansen and Graham Henry

Warren Gatland says he considered dropping older players from his 2023 Six Nations squad, and ideally that process should have begun sooner.

New skipper Ken Owens, 36, Alun Wyn Jones, 37, Leigh Halfpenny and recalled Rhys Webb, both 34, are in the squad.

Coach Gatland was asked if he had considered omitting such veterans.

He replied: “Yeah, I did. It was something that needed to be done earlier. I think we’re running out of time.”

Gatland returned for his second stint as Wales head coach when he took over from fellow New Zealander Wayne Pivac in December 2022 and insisted his comments were “not a criticism of the previous regime”.

With nine months until the World Cup starts in France, Gatland has selected people who have become Wales legends in a 37-man squad that has four uncapped players.

“Some of that experience needs to be in that squad to help with the youngsters who haven’t got a lot of caps to their name,” added Gatland.

“We’ve some youngsters that have come in and then we’ve some older very experienced players we need to manage.”

In addition to Owens, Jones, Halfpenny and Webb, Gatland included eight more players aged 30 or over for the Six Nations.

They are: Tomas Francis, Wyn Jones and George North, 30, Liam Williams, 31, Taulupe Faletau and Alex Cuthbert, 32, and 33-year-olds Justin Tipuric and Dan Biggar.

Gatland told the BBC’s Scrum V podcast had he been in the job in the last three years the profile of his squad would have been younger.

He insisted he was not frustrated at that, saying: “It is hard because there is a lot of expectation and pressure when you are coaching international rugby with the pressure to perform and win.

“The thing about picking younger players is you have to go through some pain with them, of gaining experience and learning from those. That means sometimes you don’t get the performances straightaway you want.

“That is always the challenge with coaches, when you bring in young players and the confidence to do that and trying to get the balance.

“It’s a hard thing to get right, but that’s the challenge over the next 10 months trying to develop these youngsters to come through.

“We need that experience there, but we also have to make sure some of the youngsters pick up game time because if we pick up injuries, we are going to need them.

“There has been a lot of players who have been selected for Wales over the last few years, but there has not been a lot of consistency in terms of the number of caps those players have had and sometimes the combinations.

“That’s been hard, it’s not a criticism of the previous regime, they were going through Covid-19 and different challenges, they have picked up injuries in certain positions.

“It’s been tough for them. There is always expectation in Wales to perform and get results.

“The biggest thing over the next 10 months is how we give those youngsters more caps and time in the middle to perform.”

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