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Warren Gatland says ‘the right structures’ give Ireland their advantage

By PA
CARDIFF, WALES - FEBRUARY 03: Warren Gatland, Head Coach of Wales, looks on prior to the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between Wales and Scotland at Principality Stadium on February 03, 2024 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Wales head coach Warren Gatland says he is “not 100 per cent convinced” that Welsh regional rugby will undergo the proper reset he feels it requires.

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Wales face runaway Guinness Six Nations title favourites Ireland in Dublin on Saturday – and the contrast between two long-standing rivals could hardly be greater.

On the field, Ireland have lost just two of their last 40 home Tests, while victory over Wales would see them equal England’s record of 11 successive Six Nations wins.

Wales, meanwhile, have lost nine of their last 10 Six Nations fixtures, and off the field it is a similar case of chalk and cheese.

Ireland are thriving from a system of centrally-contracted players that underpins vibrant, successful provincial teams, while Wales’ four professional regions are each preparing for significant budget cuts that will take effect from next season.

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Asked to assess the key difference between Irish and Welsh rugby, Gatland said: “I think they (Ireland) have just got the right structures in place.

“Probably, if I look at the previous time I was here (between 2008 and 2019), we were kind of papering over the cracks of the things that were happening in Welsh rugby.

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“We have got an opportunity for a reset, which unfortunately I am not 100 per cent convinced we will have a proper reset within our regions.

“It has probably felt sometimes like you are in a sinking ship and you are trying to plug the holes a little bit. So there is still lots of work for us to do.

“It took a long time (in Ireland), but that has benefited from the performances of their provincial teams, which has transferred into their international team.

“We were probably the other way around. We were the reverse. Right now, we are probably reflective of where our regions are. We have got to look at closing that gap.”

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Six Nations

P
W
L
D
PF
PA
PD
BP T
BP-7
BP
Total
1
Ireland
2
2
0
0
10
2
England
2
2
0
0
8
3
Scotland
2
1
1
0
5
4
France
2
1
1
0
4
5
Wales
2
0
2
0
3
6
Italy
2
0
2
0
1

Gatland believes having the correct infrastructure at Wales’ four professional regions – Cardiff, Scarlets, Ospreys and Dragons – is key.

“I continue to speak about infrastructure, getting the right infrastructure, the right environment, the right S&C (strength and conditioning) coaches, medical staff, quality coaches. training facilities, grounds and stuff,” he added.

“Forget about the players. Get that (infrastructure) right, and then you start building your squad.

“We have tended to do it the other way around – or a bit of 50/50 – and then it just feels like you are plugging up the holes of a sinking ship.

“The only way we are going to do it as a group is if we work together and we support each other.

“Everyone talks about the finances, and I understand that, but it is (about) making the right decisions.

“The short-term fix is to go and buy two or three players that might plug a couple of holes.

“But if we don’t think about the long-term benefit of the game and the infrastructure we’ve got, we are just going to be behind the eight-ball continuously.

“My advice to all the regions is don’t worry about players. If it means picking young players to your squad, make sure you spend the money on your facilities, make sure you spend the money on the right people within your environment.”

On Saturday’s Aviva Stadium encounter, Gatland said: “There has been a lot said about us being underdogs, but that is not a motivation for us.

“The motivation is the pressure we are putting on ourselves to get better from game one and two.

“We have spoken all week about having no fear to go there. It is going to be a huge challenge for us, but you have got to embrace that, you have got to be excited about that.”

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Poorfour 5 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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