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17 Mar 2008 14:23
Wales coach Warren Gatland will take his strongest available side to South Africa for two Tests against the world champions in June after guiding his team to the Six Nations grand slam in his first season in charge.
In recent years, Six Nations sides have rested leading players when travelling to the Southern Hemisphere in the off-season.
But after Wales’s 29-12 victory over defending champions France before a euphoric home crowd at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, Gatland made it clear he would field his top team in South Africa.
“We have won the grand slam but we do not want to stop there,” Gatland told reporters.
“You have got to test yourself against the best teams in the world and South Africa are number one at the moment.
“We will not rest on our laurels. It has been a great start for us coaches but we need to keep improving.
If we sit back we will get caught.
“To win over there at altitude, I know how tough that is.
Martyn Williams, man-of-the match against France after another consummate display at openside flanker, is the only player in doubt.
“I will sit down with Martyn and say ‘do you want to go or do you want a break’,” Gatland said.
Wales, who have never won in South Africa, take on the Springboks in Durban on June 7 and in Pretoria a week later.
Gatland’s defence coach Shaun Edwards confirmed he planned to stay with Wales and English premiership side Wasps until 2012 after the Welsh conceded only two tries in the championship.
“I want to get my future until 2012 sorted,” Edwards said in his weekly Guardian column on Monday. “And that future means twin contracts running in tandem for the next three years.
“With any luck the deals can be done, dusted and signed this week.”
His decision is a further boost for Gatland, who said he would like to keep his coaching team of Edwards, Rob Howley, Robin McBryde, Neil Jenkins and Mark Bennett in place until the 2011 World Cup in his native New Zealand.
“They are young and they are learning all the time,” Gatland said. “As a coach I would like to think I am doing exactly the same.”
Thanks largely to a dazzling display of the flyhalf arts from Danny Cipriani, World Cup finalists England took second place in the Six Nations table with a 33-10 win over Ireland.
But the result may not be enough to keep coach Brian Ashton in a job for his team’s two-Test tour to New Zealand in June after losses to Wales and Scotland.
Ashton will meet Rugby Football Union elite rugby director Rob Andrew on Tuesday to discuss his future.
“Whether I am staying in the job or not, I’ve no idea,” Ashton told the BBC. “Winning one game does not mean any less pressure.”
Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan’s position must also be in jeopardy before his side’s tour of Australia, despite signing a four-year contract before the tournament. Ireland finished fourth in the championship, their worst result for nine years. - Reuters
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