Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Warren Gatland ready to shake up Wales’ selection for Samoa Test

Warren Gatland ready to shake up Wales’ selection for Samoa Test

Rugby Correspondent SIMON ROBERTS expects Warren Gatland to gamble again for Wales’ Samoa test

WARREN GATLAND has a reputation for making bold selections as Wales coach.

The New Zealander, who masterminded Wales’ Grand Slam in 2008, is not afraid to take a calculated gamble when it comes to team selection.

But can we expect him to do the same for Wales’ clash with Samoa at the Millennium Stadium on Friday night?

Gatland’s decision to select 13 Ospreys for his first game in charge for the 2008 Six Nations opener against England resulted in Wales’ first victory at Twickenham for 20 years.He was widely criticised for the move but it proved to be a masterstroke and set Wales up for a second Six Nations clean sweep in four years.

Gatland’s gambling instincts were on view again 12 months ago when Wales emerged with a low-key 34-13 victory over Canada in Cardiff.

Ditto last March when Gatland made nine changes for the Six Nations trip to Italy, Wales edging home 20-15 in Rome.

Gatland was widely accused of throwing away the Six Nations title with that selection but the Kiwi has always had his sights on the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

All three selection gambles ended in victory, but does Gatland do the same against Samoa?

Or does he pick the same side which lost to New Zealand en bloc just to get a morale-boosting win?

Gatland is a born winner but, with the World Cup only a couple of years away, he knows he must add to the depth of his current squad.

That is why it is a pretty safe bet that a host of the young guns named in his 28-man squad for the Autumn Test series will get the nod today.

Yet this Samoa side are not to be taken lightly. The perception that they are a side Wales should
be beating at the drop of a hat is arrogance beyond belief.Most of their best players are scattered across the top sides in Europe and should not be underestimated.

They have travelled to Wales with a squad full of northern hemisphere-based players and will include Seilala Mapusua and George Stowers in their line-up, even if a third London Irish star, the powerful wing Sailosi Tagicakibau, will be missing.

In their original 27-man squad there were 10 players from England’s Guinness Premiership, five based in France and Glasgow’s Justin Va’a. The rest play in New Zealand or Samoa.

What they lack in organisation and time to really bring a side together, they make up with sheer passion for the Samoan jersey.

There is the added emotional dimension of this being the first game played by Samoa since the tsunami there at the end of September, which wiped out whole villages and left the death toll at 100 and rising.

Samoans are a proud and emotional people and they won’t be playing against Wales, but for those who lost their lives back home.

Gatland, as a coach, knows how important emotion is at Test level and he will be wary of Samoa’s extra incentive on Friday.

But his primary focus will be on Wales and seeing what he has coming through the system behind his frontline players.

He will also be under no illusions that selecting an inexperienced side against the tough-tackling Samoans could be yet another gamble.

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