Wales manager Warren Gatland has his sights set on the Six Nations opener against Ireland, with the World Cup also in his immediate schedule.
With less than two months to go until the showdown with Ireland at the Principality Stadium, Gatland knows that getting off on the right foot would be huge for his side.
Wayne Pivac’s departure from the Wales hot seat coincided with Gatland’s return as head coach, returning to the job after leaving after the 2019 World Cup.
Ireland first in the Six Nations
Somewhat poetically, the New Zealander’s last Six Nations match for Wales was a win against Ireland. However, he knows the Irish are a different team this year.
“They are the best team in the world and rightly so,” Gatland told media before revealing that facing one of the best teams first could work in their favour.
“Making them get up early at home isn’t the worst thing. It’s a momentum tournament and if you win your first game you have a good chance of doing well.”
He added: “Getting the Irish first is probably the only game you want at home. There’s probably a little more pressure on them and we’ll be quite excited to prepare for that match.”
It is well documented that Wales had a tough year as home defeats to Italy and Georgia led to Pivac’s departure after the Autumn Nations Series.
Gatland therefore has a significant job on his hands to turn the ship around, but he has revealed that the expectation of the Welsh public is something that drives him.
“International rugby is always a challenge and when I first spoke to Steve Phillips (CEO of WRU) I was reminiscing about the good times I’ve had here, being involved in matches being played in front of 75,000 people,” he recalled.
“There’s a lot of pressure and expectation, but that motivates you and excites you. I don’t think things have changed since I arrived in late 2007 – there has always been expectation and history in Wales.
“For us as a team, it’s about working hard and preparing the best way possible to perform well and get results. Those are the expectations when you’re wearing that famous Welsh shirt.
“It’s always a bit of a roller coaster. You have some success and good times and you are judged on two things, one of which is the Six Nations.
He continued: “The Six Nations is incredibly important. My aim for this year will be to get this team working for a good Six Nations and then try and do well in France in a World Cup year.
Busy 12 months ahead for Gatland
“We are in a tough group to try and get out of next year but that is the challenge. If we can get out of that, we can go a long way in the tournament. It’s been a busy 12 months, but I can’t wait.
“We’ve had Australia in our group before and we’ve had some close races. We also have Georgia and we cannot underestimate it. Fiji will also be complicated. The hardest thing with international rugby is the limited preparation time, but the beauty with the World Cup is the time you get yourself into.
“It’s like being in a club team or a regional team. Your preparation is so much better in terms of the depth you can delve into and the fine-tuning of the time you spend together – that’s what’s exciting about Worlds.
“We have had success in the past and we were unlucky not to make it to the final. We hope to be able to continue on this line”.
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The article Warren Gatland: Wales manager excited by Ireland’s Six Nations opener and looks ahead to Rugby World Cup first appeared on Planetrugby.com.