Gatland looking to youth
February 3, 2000
Warren Gatland, who still looks odds on to pay the price for Ireland's 1999 World Cup flop, is aiming to leave a legacy for the 2003 tournament before he vacates the hot seat.
The New Zealander's two-and-a-half-year contract as Ireland coach is up at the end of the inaugural Lloyds TSB Six Nations Championship and he knows that only a successful campaign will save his job.
Given that Irish success in the old Five Nations was as rare as an empty pub in Temple Bar, the 36-year-old former All Black is unlikely to be putting any AVCs into the IRFU pension fund.
But, with Keith Wood restored to the captaincy, he is determined to use the Six Nations as a vehicle to re-establish the team's credibility that was shot to pieces on that dismal Wednesday evening in Lens last October.
"We were disappointed at losing to Argentina in the World Cup," said Gatland. "This is a chance for us to go out there and I suppose re-establish some confidence and also play well.
"That's the important thing. We need to get a little bit of respect back in the jersey and to play well."
Little talk then of victory. Gatland, who has welcomed the chance to take on England first up, enjoyed just one win out of seven Five Nations games and is clearly looking at the performances rather than the results.
Along with new assistant Eddie O'Sullivan, the former Waikato hooker decided to give youth its fling in naming a new-look, exciting squad.
The coach insists there is no new broom, but many of the old guard players like Paddy Johns, Andy Ward and Eric Miller have been banished to the A team and young guns like Bob Casey, Peter Stringer and Ronan O'Gara will be given their head as Gatland looks ahead to the next World Cup.
"I think for us, with such a small playing base of players compared to other countries, you've got to look from World Cup to World Cup and that's something I've been saying for a while," he said.
"We've looked at a couple of young players that we think are pretty exciting and have been playing well. We're looking to bring them in and develop them.
"It would have been the easiest thing in the world to make a conservative selection and I think you could pick a side to bash and thump and compete very well this season.
"But I'd like to think I've enough moral character that, if I did have to walk away, I could say that we've picked some players for the development of Irish rugby.
"This squad is very much picked on form. Players like Robert Casey, playing for Leinster, has been playing particularly well and Munster's Ronan O'Gara has been one of the form players of the year."
Gatland is set to field a line-up with an average age of 25 and that is likely
O'Gara, the uncapped Munster fly-half, has been knocking on the door for the last 18 months and, like David Humphreys with Ulster in 1999, has shot to the front of the queue thanks to remarkable success in the European Cup.
Gatland has become an O'Gara fan and, although he is ruled out of Saturday's Twickenham opener with an ill-timed medial ligament strain, he is certain to come back into the reckoning as the campaign progresses.
"He has what you are looking for in an outside half," said Gatland. "He's pretty cool, not fazed. He has got a good boot on him and he's got a good running game too.
"He's matured. He's been around for the last couple of seasons but we haven't rushed him too early. We were impressed by his play and he seems to have the
"That's an important factor too, that your outside-half is a player playing with confidence, like David was last year."
O'Gara was among a total of 16 Munster men in Gatland's original 45-strong training squad and the coach is banking on their remarkable success in storming
"I think it will help," said Gatland. "It's a reflection of players playing
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