Gatland revolution gets underway
PA Sport
January 15, 2008

Warren Gatland may have persuaded Martyn Williams to come out of international retirement, but in every other way he has signalled comprehensively that Welsh rugby is at the start of a new era.

Ospreys number eight Ryan Jones was yesterday named Wales' 126th captain and Gatland has appointed two new assistant coaches in Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley.

In addition, the New Zealander issued a firm warning to established internationals Stephen Jones and Dwayne Peel that their places in the team are by no means guaranteed.

Welsh rugby needed a new start to inject fresh enthusiasm following the dismal World Cup campaign, which culminated in defeat to Fiji and elimination in the group stages.

Gatland said: "There is a lot of negativity in Welsh rugby at the moment and I want to change that."

Edwards has signed a two-year deal part-time deal, allowing him to continue in his day job as Wasps head coach.

The former Great Britain rugby league captain turned down the chance to coach the second-string England Saxons and will instead be reunited with Gatland, who is a close friend and former colleague.

The pair enjoyed unparalleled success together in charge at Wasps, winning a hat-trick of Premiership titles and the Heineken Cup.

Gatland said: "For us, it is a huge coup and we are delighted to have his services, not just as a defence coach but in his ability to create a winning environment.

"Shaun sees this as part of his professional development and he is really looking forward to the challenge.

"He has the ambition to be involved with the 2009 Lions in South Africa and we believe we can facilitate that. We play South Africa three times before then.

"Coaching the Saxons is not a great stepping stone - but being defence coach with Wales gives him a good opportunity to put his foot in the door for the Lions."

Gatland persuaded Williams to come out of his brief stint in international retirement after being alarmed by the paucity of options Wales have at openside flanker.

Robin Sowden-Taylor, 25, currently heads the queue to inherit Williams' Wales seven jersey but he cannot currently command a regular place above him in the Cardiff Blues side.

"I had a chat with Martyn and said there is a hole in the squad for an experienced seven," said Gatland.

"Sowden-Taylor and Ben Lewis will become very good but they are a little bit away from it. They will only benefit from having Martyn in the squad over the next 18 months or two years.

"I said to him there is no pressure. We might not take him on the tour to South Africa and use that to develop the other sevens."

There was much greater competition for the captaincy, with Jonathan Thomas and Alun-Wyn Jones also strong candidates.

But, tellingly, Gatland revealed Peel and Jones were not considered because they were not guaranteed their places - indicating Mike Phillips and James Hook as potential starters against England at Twickenham on February 2.

It is a stark change in policy for Wales given previous coach Gareth Jenkins had told Phillips his place in the squad was as back-up to Peel.

There were casualties of Gatland's new broom, with the likes of Colin Charvis, Kevin Morgan and Michael Owen not included in the squad.

But Jones, who has never held a serious captaincy position at any level before this season, welcomed the new approach and buys into Gatland's message of positivity.

"I wasn't part of the World Cup heartache that some players have," said Jones, who missed the tournament with a shoulder injury.

"You can spend too much time dwelling on the past. We have to move on. We have a new coaching staff and it is important we look to the future.

"With the likes of Shaun Edwards and Warren Gatland coming in, it is always nice to have people putting new ideas in the pot.

"And, from a personal point of view, it doesn't get any bigger than being captain. I have felt 10 feet tall since I was asked."

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