Warren Gatland: Criticism of Wales' World Cup warm-ups 'fair'

Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland will leave his post as Wales head coach after the 2019 World Cup
World Cup warm-up: England v Wales
Venue: Twickenham Date: Sunday, 11 August Kick-off: 14:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC 5 Live Extra & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary

Head coach Warren Gatland says it is "fair" to criticise Wales' decision to play four World Cup warm-up matches.

Legendary full-back JPR Williams and fly-half James Hook are among those who have voiced concerns that players could suffer injuries before the tournament.

Wales face England at Twickenham on Sunday and in Cardiff on Saturday, 17 August, before playing Ireland home and away on 31 August and 7 September.

"I understand the criticism. That's warranted," said Gatland.

"It's a little bit of a concern that you don't pick up too many injuries, but sometimes you have just got to roll the dice and go with it.

"The criticism is fair. You can't get it right all the time. You are trying to negotiate warm-up games with sides and trying to get the balance right.

"Four years ago we were supposed to play England home and away, and that got called off because we ended up in the same [World Cup] pool.

"I think the England games are always a good contest for us. You may have wanted three [games], or potentially not quite so strong opposition.

"But you go into negotiations, and sometimes you have got to accept what has been delivered.

"For us, I think the fact we are in such a good place, mentally and the depth we've created in the squad, we can go in with some confidence and maybe not pick up too many injuries."

Wales have fallen foul of warm-up matches in the past, losing scrum-half Rhys Webb and full-back Leigh Halfpenny to tournament-ending injuries in their final fixture before the 2015 World Cup.

Gatland has named a strong team for Sunday's match against England at Twickenham, starting with 13 of the 15 players who helped Wales clinch the Six Nations Grand Slam with victory over Ireland in March.

With a number of players nursing knocks or returning from longer-term injuries, Gatland has said Wales will have to "be smart about players we expose" over the course of the next four matches.

England meanwhile have named a more experimental line-up, with first international starts for scrum-half Willi Heinz and Bath wing Ruaridh McConnochie.

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Gatland and England counterpart Eddie Jones did not discuss their selections beforehand, but the Wales coach confirmed he and Ireland boss Joe Schmidt have discussed the topic.

"No there hasn't been any talk about that [with Jones]," Gatland said.

"I've spoken to Joe Schmidt about the two games we play with each other so we're kind of on the same page about what we're going to do with the Irish games.

"The [Wales] coaches are catching up with Eddie over dinner tonight [Friday] so I'm sure there will be a little bit of banter and chat.

"We haven't spoken about the games. It will be interesting to see how the chat goes over dinner."

Wales: Liam Williams (Saracens) (55 Caps); George North (Ospreys) (83 Caps), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets) (73 Caps), Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets) (15 Caps), Josh Adams (Cardiff Blues) (10 Caps); Gareth Anscombe (Ospreys) (26 Caps), Gareth Davies (Scarlets) (41 Caps); Nicky Smith (Ospreys) (28 Caps), Ken Owens (Scarlets) (64 Caps), Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs) (40 Caps), Adam Beard (Ospreys) (13 Caps), Alun Wyn Jones (Capt, Ospreys) (125 Caps), Aaron Wainwright (Dragons) (8 Caps), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys) (64 Caps), Ross Moriarty (Dragons) (31 Caps).

Replacements: Elliot Dee (Dragons) (18 Caps), Wyn Jones (Scarlets) (12 Caps), Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues) (12 Caps), Jake Ball (Scarlets) (32 Caps), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets) (17 Caps), Tomos Williams (Cardiff Blues) (7 Caps), Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints) (70 Caps), Owen Watkin (Ospreys) (13 Caps).

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