What the Welsh newspapers are saying ahead of the clash at the Millennium Stadium.
It’s been an interesting start to the week in Cardiff. On Monday, it was revealed that Warren Gatland is free to select players based in France, even though the 29 November Test falls outside of the sanctioned international window. South Africa, of course, have no such deal with the French clubs. The Springbok management team is furious that they have not secured the release of Bryan Habana and the like, while Wales will have stars such as Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny available.
The Welsh press has other concerns. Today’s edition of the Western Mail has gone big on the Gatland debate. Since taking the reins at Wales in 2008, Gatland has won one of the 27 Tests played against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The front page has run a picture of the coach checking his watch below a header that reads ‘Gats' time may be up’.
The back page is dedicated to this side of the debate, with former British & Irish Lions hooker Shane Byrne stating that ‘Gatland may have run his race as Wales coach’. Byrne, an Irishman, notes the impact made by Joe Schmidt at Ireland. Ireland won the Six Nations this season and collected the prize scalps of Australia and South Africa.
Byrne says a new coach could be what Wales needs. Despite the criticism, Byrne still believes Wales have what it takes to beat the Boks this weekend. ‘But they will have to play for 85 minutes,’ he adds.
Andy Howell argues for the retention of Gatland in ‘Wales coach Gatland under pressure? Don’t be so ridiculous …’ Howell points out Gatland has steered Wales to three Six Nations titles, as well as the 2011 World Cup semi-final ‘in which France were there for the taking’. Of the rotten record against the southern hemisphere giants, Howell writes: ‘it’s not unusual for Wales to lose to any of them … What do people expect? Gatland’s record stacks up against any of the so-called Golden Eras’, during the opening decade of the last century, the early 1950s and the 1970s’.
Howell observes that Wales play the three superpowers regularly these days, and that's why Gatland’s overall win ratio may not be as good as previous coaches. And then he comes to his point, the reason why Wales haven’t beaten any one of these sides in six years: ‘it might be as simple as our players not being quite good enough’.
In the South Wales Echo, Gareth Griffiths wonders how Wales conspired to lose their last clash against South Africa in Nelspruit. Wales were well ahead at one stage, but were overtaken in the second half and ultimately lost 31-30 at the death.
Assistant coach Rob Howley played down talk of revenge. Howley believes the coming match will be a dress rehearsal for the 2015 World Cup, and that the two teams may meet in the quarter-final. ‘That is our motivation in terms of trying to put a script to it’.
By Jon Cardinelli