/ Rugby

Gatland determined to win 'pool of death'

Updated: Tuesday, 23 Aug 2011 15:13

Warren Gatland is determined for his Welsh side to win the pool of death
Warren Gatland is determined for his Welsh side to win the pool of death

Warren Gatland has underlined his fierce determination to see Wales win the World Cup's so-called 'Pool of Death'.

Wales coach Gatland is relishing a prospect of tackling reigning world champions South Africa, Samoa and Fiji in New Zealand, starting against the Springboks on September 11.

Some might question Gatland's optimism given that Wales have only beaten the Springboks once from 25 attempts and previously suffered World Cup humiliation against Samoa and Fiji.

But after naming a World Cup squad that will be skippered by 22-year-old Cardiff Blues flanker Sam Warburton and contains just one uncapped player, Scarlets hooker Ken Owens, Gatland delivered an upbeat message.

"We want to win the group," he said. "I think we are in great shape physically. We shouldn't go there with any fears.

"I really put the players under pressure the week of the second England game this month to beat England at home and to perform (Wales won 19-9).

"In the past, sometimes they have shied away from that responsibility. You could see the heads go down, but they fronted up to what was a big challenge.

"And last weekend, we didn't play that well, but to beat Argentina comfortably was a sign there is something in this squad that is hopefully going to show something at the World Cup.

"It has been a really good August for us. The hardest thing about coaching an international side is limited preparation time, and the fact we have had these guys together for a couple of months has made a massive difference to us.

"I would like to think that people think we are not in bad shape going to this World Cup."

Warburton becomes Wales' youngest World Cup captain, filling a vacancy created by hooker Matthew Rees' neck injury.

Owens, meanwhile, received an 11th-hour call after Richard Hibbard suffered an ankle ligament problem during the Pumas clash in what was his comeback match following shoulder surgery earlier this summer.

There are few surprises in the 30-man squad, although 99 times-capped Blues flanker Martyn Williams misses out on playing in his fourth World Cup.

Whether Williams now decides to call time on a memorable 15-year Test career remains to be seen after Gatland opted for a split of 16 forwards and 14 backs, rather than 17-13.

"You can only pick 30 players," added Gatland. "If we had gone for a 17-13 split, we would have taken two sevens.

"I had a chat with Martyn in the week. He has been an unbelievable servant to Welsh rugby. He is selfless, a great servant.

"We've had a few injuries in the back three, and we wanted to make sure we had cover there. It needed bolstering up, so we went for 16-14."

Gatland admitted it had probably been a toss of the coin between Andy Powell and Josh Turnbull for a back-row slot, but Powell got the nod.

Last year, Powell was kicked out of Wales' Six Nations squad after he drove a golf buggy from the team hotel towards the M4 in the early hours following a home win against Scotland.

And he was released by Wasps earlier this year after a brawl with football fans in a London bar, subsequently joining their Aviva Premiership rivals Sale Sharks.

Powell gained his chance to impress against Argentina when number eight Ryan Jones rested a calf muscle problem, meaning the 30-year-old was promoted off the bench.

"We told Andy before the Argentina game that his game had to be error-free and he needed to take his opportunities," said Gatland.

"He delivered. He played his way into the squad.

"We have been really impressed with Josh Turnbull. To be honest, it was probably a toss-up between Josh and Andy Powell.

"Probably about eight o'clock last night we finalised the squad. I think we had 27 names we were all comfortable with. It was then the final three and the split - 17-13 or 16-14."

Williams, Turnbull, scrum-half Dwayne Peel, who captained Wales in their first game of the 2007 World Cup, and three other back-row forwards - Jonathan Thomas, Gareth Delve and Justin Tipuric - are among those to miss out.

Scarlets wing George North, at 19, is the youngest player chosen, with Gatland also selecting two 20-year-olds in Scarlets centre Scott Williams and Newport Gwent Dragons number eight Toby Faletau.

There are also places for young scrum-halves Tavis Knoyle and Lloyd Williams, who is the son of former Wales number nine Brynmor Williams, plus relative front-row rookies in Lloyd Burns and Ryan Bevington.

Rees, Hibbard, centre Gavin Henson (wrist) and wing Morgan Stoddart (broken leg) were all unavailable for selection, Henson faces 12 weeks out recovering from a dislocated bone in his wrist, but prop Gethin Jenkins makes the cut.

Despite an ongoing calf muscle problem, Wales are confident 76 times-capped Jenkins will feature in the pool stages.

"Gethin is unlikely to be fit for the South Africa game, although he should definitely be right for the Samoa match," added Gatland.

"He's an important quality player. We know how good he is."

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