Gatland happy with Welsh response
June 26, 2010
Jonathan Thomas has praised Wales © Getty Images
Wales coach Warren Gatland praised the character of his players after their hard-fought 29-10 loss to New Zealand in Hamilton.
Just a week after capitulating 42-9 against the same opponents in Dunedin, the tourists went the distance with the All Blacks and even scored a late try thanks to Jamie Roberts to finish their season on a more positive note.
"The pleasing thing about today's performance is that the All Blacks tend to get stronger from game to game, particularly at the start of their campaigns, and these guys could have thought about getting on the plane tomorrow and going on holiday for six weeks and they didn't do that," Gatland said. "That is what I was really proud of. They showed some character out there and they wore that jersey with some real pride and as coaches that's what you're looking for."
But having seen his side keep the All Blacks to just one Cory Jane first-half try and 17 points from the boot of Daniel Carter, the New Zealander lamented the try Aaron Cruden was able to score, which was converted by Piri Weepu. Gatland felt a try apiece would have been a fairer reflection of the game and his team's performance.
"We're pretty gutted with the last try," the Wales coach said. "We've had a couple of yellow cards, the penalty count has been quite heavy against us but I think it was a step up from last week. We've worked really hard on areas to stop the All Blacks counter-attack and making sure defensively we're stronger and I thought we made a big improvement in that area.
"I think if it had ended up with one try all we would have been more than happy. It's disappointing with that little kick through and Lee Byrne has fallen over and it's a soft seven-pointer at the end of the game."
Gatland also admitted his side needed to improve their discipline after Carter was able to keep the scoreboard ticking over early in the second half to stretch the All Blacks lead from 13-3 at the break to 22-3 just 15 minutes in to the second spell.
"At 13-3 Dan's kicked a few penalties from 40 metres out and from our point of view there were a couple of discipline areas. There were two or three soft penalties that we need to look at eliminating from our game," Gatland said. But he had no issues with the yellow cards shown to Byrne and Gavin Thomas.
Byrne was sin-binned by Jonathan Kaplan on the stroke of half-time for lifting lock Tom Donnelly in the tackle, while Thomas - and All Blacks replacement lock Sam Whitelock - missed the final nine minutes of the match after Whitelock held back the Welsh openside who threw a punch in retaliation.
"Lee has come and apologised," Gatland said. "It's one of those things that happens in a game. He lifted him off the ground and he's been yellow carded. I don't think there's any malice in what he's done but you have to make him aware that he has to be a bit more responsible next time."
Wales had issues with discipline during the Six Nations but Gatland was adamant these two incidents did not fall into the same category. "The frustrating things are the dumb things that players do (to get yellow cards)," he added. "I can't accuse Lee of being dumb. In Gavin's case that's a little bit of frustration. It's the one we spoke about in the Six Nations - the tripping one - that's stupid."
Despite his side's improved effort Gatland conceded the gap still remained between the two teams but felt that the two-Test tour had been a hugely beneficial experience. "There is a gap, we admit that. But we've got a massive amount of learning out of the last two weeks and that's what we keep saying about playing the best teams and coming to such a tough country to tour. For us and the future that's really positive."
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw had mixed views on the game - after being unable to cut loose like he had in Dunedin a week ago. "It was a bit frustrating. When we did hold the ball and get down their end it was penalties we were getting," he said. "We just kept it ticking over taking three points but it would have been nice to build pressure and score tries.
"Just turning over the ball let them off the hook a bit which is a bit disappointing. Even though we conceded the try at the end and being put under pressure like that I thought we defended pretty well.
"We expected it to be hard fought and it was a tough Test match. It was safe enough in the end but we struggled to get our game going," he said. "It would have been nice to stop them crossing our line, but we had pretty good defence for a while.
"They had a good idea what they were doing at scrum time and that's something we will have to work on. We have played some good rugby in parts in our three games to date and we are pretty happy where we are going into the Tri Nations."
Wales flanker Jonathan Thomas, who inherited the captain's armband when Ryan Jones was forced from the field in the first-half with an injury, praised Wales' resilience after a gutsy display. "All week we spoke about trying to gain some respect. We were bitterly disappointed at how we fell off some tackles last week," he said.
"We played with better intensity this week and we were more competitive in aspects of the game. We were disappointed with the try in the end but. Having been criticised for our fitness last week, I think we showed there isn't too much of a problem there. We just need to keep on learning and improving. We had a great reception in Hamilton and we are looking forward to coming back here in 12 months and try to be even more competitive."