Sam Warburton says that Warren Gatland will relish being back in his “comfort zone” of high-pressure international coaching after being appointed Wales boss for a second time.
Wales won four Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and reached two World Cup semi-finals during Gatland’s previous reign between 2008 and 2019.
But he returns after a miserable 2022 when Wales won just three Tests under his successor and now predecessor Wayne Pivac, with world-ranked number one team Ireland looming as opening Six Nations opponents on February 4.
“It looks like Ireland and France are going to be almost dead-certs one and two,” said former Wales and British and Irish Lions captain Warburton, who played a key part in Gatland’s success with both teams.
“So I think from a fans’ perspective, third place would be a pretty successful campaign, but I can’t imagine for a second that would be the communication from Warren.
“There is not a lot you can change from when he was appointed to the first game.
“But what you can change is the environment, the belief and the messages that you instil in the players which can have a massive effect, particularly from someone like Warren who is held in such high regard.
“You have got to get the boys to want to run through brick walls for you but that will come with a click of the fingers.
“He will love it. He is an international coach who needs to be in the pressure-cooker of an international environment, being in the middle of the pitch in front of 75,000 people.
“That’s him in his comfort zone. He has got those unflappable characteristics. It is a great asset that he has and that rubs off on all the guys.”
Despite Wales having dropped to ninth in the world – a fall underpinned by shock home defeats to Italy and Georgia last year – Warburton is upbeat about Six Nations and World Cup prospects.
And he has not ruled out the possibility of Wales shredding world rugby’s formbook by beating Ireland in Cardiff.
Warburton added: “I thought I was going to be very pessimistic for this Six Nations, but I am actually unusually excited and I think an upset against Ireland isn’t off the cards with them coming to Cardiff.
“If we win that game, it completely changes the outlook of that tournament and blows it wide open. I think there will be an enormous emphasis on beating Ireland.
“There is going to be a bit more bias towards physicality. Speak to Warren and he is very simple about how he approaches the game at international level, which is very different to club level.
“If you lose the game physically at international level, you lose the game.
“I think we’ve seen that with some of his selections in the squad, with some guys who were overlooked before because he wants them to do a job for him on the gain-line and in defence.”
One player that Warburton is relishing seeing in action is Ospreys flanker Jac Morgan, who was Wales’ stand-out performer during the autumn campaign and looks set to thrive under Gatland.
“Jac has got all the attributes – speed, strength, power, quality – and also his professionalism and mindset towards the game,” Warburton said.
“He looks a proper Test seven to me. He dominates in the physical contact, he does a lot of the unsung work, he is going to secure 20-30 rucks a game for you.
“The basics you need a seven to do he does brilliantly and I think himself and Justin (Tipuric) would make a great pairing.”
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