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Gatland slams 'bitter and twisted' critics ahead of Wales-Springboks US Test

Wales play South Africa in a lucrative Washington DC clash tomorrow.

Warren Gatland: Game a vital part of RWC prep.
Warren Gatland: Game a vital part of RWC prep.
Image: Ben Birchall

WARREN GATLAND SLAMMED critics of Wales’ clash with South Africa as “bitter and twisted” as the two teams prepare to meet in Washington DC on Saturday.

Wales are in the American capital prior to their two-match tour of Argentina with their clash with the Springboks at the RFK Stadium taking place outside World Rugby’s designated Test window.

Critics have slammed the encounter as a money-grabbing exercise with former Wales captain Gwyn Jones declaring it a “shambles” which “devalues international rugby.”

Both teams have named youthful sides, but Wales head coach Gatland sees the 80 minutes as a vital part of his team’s preparation for next year’s World Cup.

“If anyone has come out and criticised this match, they’re completely ill-informed in terms of how important it is for the long term,” he said.

“I think you would have to be someone with a chip on your shoulder or be pretty bitter and twisted to criticise this match because I see it as absolutely vital in terms of our long-term planning for 2019.

“It’s about creating depth and replicating conditions that are going to be very much the same in Japan. Playing in a different situation, a different culture, travelling, and putting ourselves out of our comfort zone all make for a really important stepping stone for us.”

Wales star George North – the most experienced member of Gatland’s touring party even at the age of just 26 – starts in the unusual position of outside centre against South Africa.

Ellis Jenkins captains the side from the back-row for the first time while his Cardiff Blues team-mate Tomos Williams will make his international debut at scrum-half.

Uncapped 20-year-old flanker Aaron Wainwright is on the bench where Wales face a late fitness call on Rhys Patchell.

Should he fail to be fit, Gareth Davies will step in.

- Midfield option for North -

Gatland has urged North – who has made three previous starts for his country at centre – to deliver the goods.

“Long term I think George is potentially an option in midfield. We’ve seen players in the past that have started their international careers on the wing, like Tana Umaga and Ma’a Nonu, and then moved into the midfield,” he said.

“It’s not out of the realms of possibility George could end up doing that in his career, but we are lucky enough to have some talented midfielders already.

“I think we’d all love to see him get back to the form he had in 2013. That was a while ago now and at the 2011 World Cup he was absolutely phenomenal.

“Then someone else made the decision for him to leave Wales and to go up to Northampton. I think he learned a lot from that. He’s made what he thinks is the best decision for him in terms of returning to Wales on a dual contract with the Ospreys and he will get looked after.”

© – AFP 2018 

‘It’s still quite raw at the moment but I’m happy that I made the right decision’

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