Wales head coach Warren Gatland believes the NatWest 6 Nations is as competitive as it has ever been after his team edged out France on Super Saturday.
A Liam Williams try and three penalties from Leigh Halfpenny secured a 14-13 victory for the hosts against Les Bleus in Cardiff. The result meant Wales secured second place in the final Championship standings, despite away defeats to England and Grand Slam champions Ireland. Gatland said he was “extremely satisfied” with how his side got the job done against France and praised their character as they held on in the second half. “It was an ugly performance, in terms of it wasn’t pretty, but we spoke beforehand and we just came here to do a job to just win and finish second in this competition,” he said. “With a six-day turnaround, we had too many turnovers and stuff, but I thought the boys showed some great character out there in the second half. “We knew it was going to be a tough close game and they are a good French team. “The great thing about this competition at the moment is how close it is and how tough it is to win and to finish anywhere in the table you need a bit of luck, but today wasn’t about the performance, it was about the result for us.”
While Wales have not won the Championship since 2013, Gatland highlighted Johnny Sexton’s last-gasp drop goal against France in Paris as evidence of the fine margins that decided this year’s title. “Congratulations to Ireland on the Grand Slam, it’s fantastic, they deserve that,” he said. “But they will know that they were a little bit lucky as well. You need a little bit of luck and first game the drop goal from Johnny Sexton completely changes everything. “Also, if we don’t throw an intercept in the last minute in Dublin and the ball goes to hand it changes our fortunes as well. “I think that’s a massive positive for the NatWest 6 Nations and the countries competing. In fairness, you had to feel sorry for Italy as they could have easily won as well. “We’ve got to be very positive about this competition, we’ve got to talk it up say how good it is because I think it’s been a very competitive year and there’s been some great rugby.” Speaking about what he had learned about his squad during the Championship, Gatland said he was delighted with the strength in depth Wales has going forward. “I think where we are at the moment, we’re realistic, but what’s pleasing is we’ve exposed some players at the highest level,” he said. “So we feel like as we’re leading into 2019 that we’ve got more depth than we had in 2015, probably if you just looked at the starting 15 we were probably a bit stronger in 2015.
“I think in 12 months time we’ll be in a really good place in terms of where we are from a starting point of view, from a starting 15 or 23. “But what we’ve done is we’ve exposed a lot more players and the depth we’ve created has put us in a great position and we’ll look to do that in the summer with the games against South Africa and Argentina as well. “We’re pretty comfortable with where we are as a squad at the moment and we’re looking forward to the next 18 months.” Gatland said he was also pleased with many aspects of Wales’ style of play, although he admitted there is still work to do to get balance as they try to adjust their game. “I think from an attacking perspective, if you look at territory and possession sometimes it hasn’t been as good as we would have liked or as good as it has been in the past,“ he said. “But we have scored some good tries and we’ve created some space. With the set-piece, we’ve been very pleased with the way we’ve scrummaged and the lineout has continued to function pretty well, particularly defensively. “We’ve got in the air and we’ve stolen and competed against opposition teams. We’ve not been too stressed by teams trying to drive against us and we’ve worked hard on that aspect of the game. “Sometimes when you are focusing on certain aspects of your performance and trying to improve, then other things you were trying to improve in the past take a second string. “So we just need to get that balance right going forward and we’ve spoken about the contact area and where we need to tweak that and improve for the game we want to play.”