CARDIFF (Reuters) – Warren Gatland says he is feeling anxious as he enters the final stage of his 12-year stay as Wales coach, which he hopes will culminate in a World Cup final appearance in Japan in a year’s time.
Gatland has already said he will leave the job following the global showpiece, having spent his time in charge turning Wales into contenders for top honours.
The visit of Scotland, a rare friendly meeting with a Six Nations rival in November, would usually be considered relatively low-key.
Yet this close to the World Cup, there is much to play for and plenty for the coaching staff of both sides to learn.
“I’m bricking myself about the next year because I want it to be a good year,” Gatland was quoted as saying by the Welsh Rugby Union in a preview of his programme notes for Saturday.
“I am focussed on doing the best job I can. I want to leave these shores with my head held high.
“That makes the next 12 months pretty important, especially the goal at the end of it.”
Wales finished fourth at the World Cup in 2011 and were unlucky losers to South Africa in the quarter-finals in 2015. Gatland says everything they do now is about making sure they peak in Japan.
“Since 2015, the focus, the end goal has been 2019. We work in four-year cycles and we are now in the final phase of that, the one-year countdown,” he said.
“Everything we do as a squad is focussed for next year, taking every opportunity together to learn, develop, build on what we have so we are ready when the tournament rolls around.
“We have proven, both in 2011 and 2015, that we do get it right and we do peak at Rugby World Cups. That gives us confidence in what we are doing and we are all pretty excited about what lies ahead.”
Gatland has experimented with his lineup to some degree against Scotland, though the fact that the fixture falls outside of the designated international window, which means a number of players are unavailable, has forced his hand to some extent.
A first cap for Sevens stalwart Luke Morgan on the wing and a run at flyhalf for Gareth Anscombe offer the kind of opportunities Gatland hopes his players will seize.
“Every match this (November) series is a further opportunity for players to keep the jersey on their back and fight for it going forward.”
After their clash with Scotland, Wales will host World Cup pool opponents Australia, Tonga and South Africa on consecutive weekends this month.
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Toby Davis)