Defiant Gatland confident Wales will improve

rugby16 March 2024 16:14| © Reuters
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Warren Gatland remains convinced his young squad are moving in the right direction despite a 24-21 home Six Nations defeat by Italy on Saturday that condemned them to the wooden spoon after five defeats in this year’s championship.

Wales trailed 18-0 going into the final quarter of the game and only brought respectability to the scoreline with three late tries, but for much of the contest, they looked devoid of ideas and quality.

"The fans will find it painful, we do as well. We didn't help ourselves in that first half and didn't get enough go forward or momentum," Gatland told reporters.

"When we did, (scrumhalf) Tomos Williams started to open up a bit and we looked dangerous so it's probably some messaging around making sure we get some momentum going forward to get on the front foot. We were a bit lateral and let Italy defend us pretty easily."

Centre George North, the third most-capped Wales international of all time, limped out of the game late on having announced his international retirement this week, adding to Gatland’s rebuild ahead of the 2027 Rugby World Cup.

Despite five defeats this season, and in 12 of their last 13 Six Nations matches, not all under Gatland, the coach insists his team has a bright future.

"This rebuild isn't harder than we thought, we knew the inexperience we had in the squad and the players we asked to step up to leadership roles. For us it's about taking the good out of the games and showing what we need to do," he said.

"I can't question the effort of the boys and in fairness to Italy, we didn't put them under a huge amount of pressure and they managed the game well.

"I'm really excited about this group with some youngsters who will learn from this experience and how to simplify the game to try and get on the front foot, which will help us."

Gatland remains committed to taking Wales to the World Cup in Australia.

"I’ve made that commitment. I just said to Abi (Tierney, Welsh Rugby chief executive) if you want me to resign, I’ll do that. She said, ‘like hell’. We’ll go away and review this carefully."

Wales have a one-off fixture against world champions South Africa that is outside the international window on 22 June, before two tests in Australia in July.