Ahead of this evening’s vital RBS 6 Nations opener between Wales and England, I thought it would only be right to post my Q&A with Ieuan Evans.
The Welsh legend speaks of the increasing pressure on Warren Gatland, the impact of Adam Jones’ injury and the importance of the Anglo-Welsh encounter.
Simon Peach: With Wales’ winless streak standing at seven games, how much pressure is Warren Gatland under?
Ieuan Evans: “It’s a World Cup year so it makes it even more significant in terms of preparation for the tournament and going into it in the right mindset. It is critical. Anglo-Welsh encounters are always a focal point for the Welsh people and it could well determine the success of this Six Nations. We need to get back in a winning habit. At the back of the autumn, Fiji was hugely disappointing, especially in terms of the level of performance. It did unearth a soft underbelly in terms of the strength in depth of Wales. Not having a victory from the four games, having targeted to get at least one but probably two at being a fair return, is hugely disappointing. This Welsh team needs to start winning.”
SP: There is no doubting Gatland initial impact in the role, but what has gone wrong since then?
IE: “I don’t think it is a case that it is about Warren Gatland. It is about Wales. I don’t think the focal point of this should be Warren Gatland, to be honest. I think we personalise things in Wales far too much and I think it is more of a case of the country as a whole. In rugby you are always in danger of picking up injuries and that’s the nature of the game, but a couple of injuries seems to throw our season into total disarray. We have a chronic lack of strength and depth in certain areas. I think that undermines out ability to compete at the top level and, in fact, I cannot remember the last time Wales put out their strongest side. All teams could probably turn around and say the same but it does seem to totally derail Wales.”
SP: You mention injuries, Adam Jones is obviously a problem…
IE: “That is a huge blow, an enormous blow. Probably more than any other player. With respect we might have bigger star names, but Adam Jones’ injury could be a chronic blow to our chance of doing well in this Six Nations. I think he is the best tighthead in Britain without a shadow of a doubt. I am sure people in England would talk about Dan Cole and so on, but I think he has got a long way to catch up with Adam Jones at this moment in time. He is still a young man learning his craft and even Leicester Tigers use Martin Castrogiovanni before bringing on Dan Cole later. Jones is a little further down the line and I think he is an outstanding tighthead prop. If we don’t have a quality tighthead prop it certainly does undermine your ability to operate off the backrow and Wales need that so he is important.”
SP: Talking of the here and now, would you agree that the inability to secure victory suggests a mental fragility?
IE: “It is self-perpetuating if you don’t win you get nervous about winning; you get nervous about winning you don’t win. It is an ever decreasing circle and how do you get over that? How do you get over the finishing line? You need to start to doing especially when you’re heading into a tournament where winning is it. It’s not about form it’s about winning games. In recent times Wales have struggled to do that. They put in a strong 40 minutes here or there, or a strong 50 or 60 minutes but a game is 80 minutes plus and you have to get over the finishing line. There is a number of reasons for that. Wales are having to play one or two players that aren’t form because of a lack of options and key players have been injured as well. But we have to cope with that because that is sport, Wales are not unique in that and a lot of teams have struggled with injuries but the backups for Wales have not been able to play to that level. A number of things can trigger things and that is why Wales v England is such an important game, more so for Wales. Wales are the home team and in the Six Nations if you lose your first game the next one is away from home, where we have to go to Scotland who have a very well coached side under Andy Robinson. Terrific pack of forwards. That is going a very tough game, so if you lose your first game where is your confidence going to come from? All of a sudden, the tournament is over as it starts and ends very quickly. It’s over in a blink of an eye and you really have to start off with a bang – and there is no better way to start off with a bang than an Anglo-Welsh encounter at Millennium Stadium. It is so critical game to Wales.”