Balancing act reaps rewards for Gatland

HEAD coach Warren Gatland believes his side’s perfect blend of youth and experience will propel Wales to their best ever World Cup finish.

Wales have made it to the semi-final stage only once previously back in 1987 when the competition, the first ever World Cup, was also held in New Zealand.

An Ireland side, who have already lowered the colours of Australia in this tournament, stand in the way of Wales equalling their previous best, and Gatland could hardly be accused of being conservative in his selection with such a big prize on offer.

Eight of the Kiwi’s matchday 22 for the quarter-final showdown are aged 23 or under with the likes of James Hook, Lee Byrne, Stephen Jones and Ryan Jones missing out.

“The nice thing is I feel we have a balance we haven’t had before,” said Gatland. “We’ve got players who can get us across the gain line.

“We’ve got pace out wide, we’ve got pretty special youngsters, we’ve got loose forwards that can carry, loose forwards that can compete on the ball, a couple of big second-rows and a more experienced front-row as well.

“We feel the balance of this team is the best we have ever had. What has been great is some of the older players know they’ve got youngsters on their heels that are really biting at their ankles. That has brought the best out of some of our older, more experienced players.

“It’s a great position to be in to be having to make hard calls about who you leave out.”

Flanker Dan Lydiate’s return from an ankle ligament injury means Gatland can reunite an outstanding back-row of Lydiate, skipper Sam Warburton and No8 Toby Faletau.

“What has been great about this World Cup is that we’ve got a lot of youngsters with no fear factor,” Gatland added. “They have got no history as well.”