Warren Gatland urges Wales to seize Grand Slam chances

Cardiff (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Warren Gatland has urged his Wales team to seize their chances against Ireland with both hands on Saturday as they bid to seal a third Six Nations Grand Slam of his 11-year reign as head coach.

It will be Gatland’s 50th and final Wales game in European rugby’s showcase tournament, with the New Zealander to step down after the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.

Gatland’s Ireland counterpart and fellow Kiwi Joe Schmidt will be overseeing his 30th, and also final, Six Nations game when the two sides clash at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.

Wales will be aiming for a record 14th straight victory, having last lost in February 2018, and a 10th successive win at their home stadium.

Victory over Ireland would ensure a record third Six Nations clean sweep of Gatland’s reign following Grand Slams in 2008 and 2012, and a first Six Nations title since 2013.

The Irish, however, can still win the title should they beat the Welsh and Scotland be victorious over England in Saturday’s final game.

Gatland was in bullish mood ahead of the game, saying: “I pride myself on the record I’ve had in big matches when it’s really mattered.

“We have spoken all week about embracing (the moment) and not running away from it.

“You get opportunities that come along in life and you have to take them with both hands.

“I have said to this group of players you might never get a chance like this again and you don’t want to let those opportunities pass you by.”

Gatland, who named a side unchanged from the one that beat Scotland 18-11 last weekend, added: “I have not seen a group of players as motivated as this before and this excited about playing in a Grand Slam game.

“I know Ireland want to come and spoil the party but we have a chance of realistically finishing first or third while Ireland will probably be second or third.

“We know what is at stake and the prize is massive.”

- Party poopers -

Ireland’s Schmidt, who made three changes to the starting line-up that eased to a 26-14 victory over France last Sunday, has helped his team build a reputation as party poopers.

Ireland ended the 18-match winning streak of the All Blacks with the 40-29 victory in Chicago in November 2016 before denying England a 2017 Grand Slam with a 13-9 triumph in Dublin that also stopped their run of 18 victories.

“It is difficult to score against them, particularly at home,” Schmidt said of the task awaiting his team in Cardiff, highlighting mastery of fine margins as key.

“Obviously last year we managed to score five tries against them, so it’s not a case of not being capable of doing but they do grow another leg in the Principality Stadium. That’s going to be a challenge for us.

“You just try to be as accurate as you can be.

“We’re going there to play because you can’t afford to go into your shell.

“I think they will certainly play a territorial game, it’s the way they’ve tried to manage the Six Nations so far. They will try to make sure that we have to work our way out of our half more often than not.”