Warren Gatland senses Ireland weakness as he takes inspiration from All Blacks’ World Cup win

Colin Newboult
Warren Gatland during a Wales training session in 2024.

Head coach Warren Gatland during a Wales training session in 2024.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland admits that they will be giving Ireland’s new full-back Ciaran Frawley some special attention on Saturday in the Six Nations.

Hugo Keenan, a stalwart under Andy Farrell, suffered an injury in their victory over Italy and will miss this weekend’s game at the Aviva Stadium.

The 27-year-old was the only out-and-out full-back in the squad, which has forced Farrell to name the utility option, Frawley, in that role.

Frawley’s ability

A talented distributor, kicker and runner, the Leinsterman is able to feature at 10, 12 or 15, but Gatland sees the inexperienced playmaker as a weakness.

Despite being 26, Frawley is not always the first choice in the Irish province’s big games and has barely featured at Test level.

He will earn just his third Ireland cap in their Six Nations clash with Wales, and Gatland insists that they will target the full-back.

“Hugo Keenan is a huge loss for them. His work-rate is exceptional as is his reading of the game in attack and defence,” the Welsh boss wrote in his Telegraph column.

“We can look to put pressure on Ciaran Frawley at full-back. He predominantly plays at 10 and 12 for Leinster and in the two games he played at full-back for them, they lost.

“He is a tall player and maybe they are thinking we are going to box-kick a lot against them, and while James Lowe has so many unbelievable strengths to his game, aerial dominance is not one of them.”

Gatland has also looked back to Ireland’s Rugby World Cup defeat to the All Blacks in the quarter-finals.

Although Farrell’s men have responded well to that loss, dominating both France and Italy in the Six Nations so far, Gatland believes that a quick start can rock the hosts.

“I went back and had a look at the All Blacks’ victory over Ireland in the World Cup quarter-final,” he wrote. “The game could have gone either way, but what stood out for me was the way the All Blacks came out and put their stamp on the game in the first 20 minutes, when they took a 13-0 lead.

“It looked to me like they threw everything they had at Ireland in the first 20 minutes and after that their line speed slowed down a bit and their forwards looked a bit tired in the second part of the first half.

“We have to deny them the freedom and confidence to play everything on the front foot. The only pressure on us is internal.”

Welsh inexperience

In contrast to an experienced Ireland side, Wales are full of young players as Gatland seeks to rebuild ahead of the 2027 World Cup.

That showed in their defeats to Scotland and England, but there were more than enough positives for the head coach to take from those encounters.

Ultimately, they only succumbed by one and two points, respectively, and the 60-year-old insists that they will go to Dublin with “belief”.

“From the heart I can tell you that I am travelling to Dublin with belief, not hope. I am an eternal optimist. That doesn’t mean I am not nervous or worried,” Gatland added.

“Yes, there is a bit of a fear factor but as a Kiwi, my attitude is: ‘Let’s go and have a crack and give it everything.’ If we give it everything and things go right for us, anything can happen. That’s always been my mentality.

“And that will be my message to the players. I am not going to ask them to be disruptors and try to slow down the game, mess around with the set-pieces and contain Ireland.

“I want them to play without any fear. If there is an opportunity to pull the trigger, then they have to go for it. We can’t go into our shell. We are going out to play against an outstanding side and we are going to give it a crack.”

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