Wales in World Cup panic
April 1, 2011
Wales boss Warren Gatland faces a race against time to work out his best combinations © Getty Images
Welsh rugby is once again in crisis after senior Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) management admitted they thought that the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand was 18 months away rather than just six.
The shocking revelation means that Wales must massively adjust their coaching, selection and playing plans to accommodate the fact they have significantly less time available to them. A serious breakdown in internal communication between WRU top brass and senior coaching staff is being blamed for the mix up.
Making matters worse, the Welsh squad now have no logistical plan in place for New Zealand 2011 and are without such basics as flight tickets to New Zealand, team accommodation or a training base. As of press time the WRU are frantically trying to snap up flight tickets from whatever source possible. Presently, consultations are taking place with Welsh friends, family and supporters who are already booked to travel down under to see if any deals can be made in regards to changing flights or swapping hotel rooms.
"It's caught us a bit by surprise," coach Warren Gatland said at an emergency press conference in Cardiff. "It's all a little embarrassing and overwhelming. I must have put the wrong date in my mobile phone calendar or something, but I can't figure out how it happened or quite how every other senior player and coach made the same mistake. Although, to be fair, Dwayne Peel did mention something in a team meeting a few months ago. He said he thought the World Cup was this October but we just ignored him. It's what we normally do with Dwayne, bless him."
Although unconfirmed, rumours are circulating that the controversial bust up between defence coach Sean Edwards and WRU sports scientist Fergus Connolly after the Wales v Ireland Six Nations clash may have been connected to the miscommunication about the World Cup dates. However, the WRU claim they are too busy making logistical plans to get to New Zealand this autumn to even respond to questions about the link between the Edwards affair and the World Cup debacle.
WRU spokesperson Duncan Williams has also apologised to World Cup organisers for disrupting tournament planning by failing to RSVP correctly. Rugby World Cup organisers, it seems, were about to invite another country to take Wales' place. Williams made a passionate appeal for Welsh rugby to pull together to solve the crisis.
"We need help with everything," pleaded an emotional Williams. "Our kit suppliers simply cannot produce the volume of gear needed to kit out a World Cup campaign. These things take seven or eight months to prepare and we don't have that kind of time. We are asking fans to send in any spare replica shirts, tracksuits, hats, etc. Anything at all. It will all help kit out the lads and increase our World Cup chances. We'll even take knitted socks from anyone that can knit. But please make them green, not white. White socks are silly."
Gatland, meanwhile, admitted that the team's tactical preparations were now in serious disorder: "We used this year's Six Nations Championship as one last stepping stone to the real beginning of our World Cup campaign which was to be the 2012 Six Nations. Now, well, we suddenly realise there are no more steps to make and time has run out. We have to decide whether to just ramp up our original plan or go for broke and try something completely new. We might even ask the players to hold the ball for more than four phases before kicking it away or dropping it. But, even in these circumstances, that may be too drastic a change."
As a result of the farcical situation the players must dramatically alter their preparation plans and they are also being asked to chip in with logistical arrangements.
Gatland said: "We've asked senior players who have toured with the British & Irish Lions to get in touch with any good friends they may have made on their tours and see if they can maybe share hotel rooms or anything at all. Every little helps. Hopefully these former team-mates will remember all that 'Power of Four' stuff they used to harp on about and chip in.
"Perhaps one of the Irish threequarters will have a spare bit of floor space in their hotel room during the World Cup and we could use it for some of the lads. Or maybe an English front-row forward won't mind sleeping top to tail in the bed with a Welsh lad for the odd evening. To be honest, we'll take anything. I myself am calling in favours from as many Kiwi friends and relatives as I can.
"I can't talk much longer," continued a flustered Gatland. "We really should get down to settling on our first choice outside-half, time is running out, you know. It's only six months away, for god's sake!"
The mix up is believed to be the worst in rugby union since Scotland completely forgot to turn up to Twickenham to face England in the 1913 Five Nations Championship. England went on to win the match 3-0.
The East Terrace (www.theeastterrace.com) offers an offside view of life in the rugby world.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September