Rugby

Eternal optimist Warren Gatland asks his Wales players to dream at Rugby World Cup

AP

Wales rugby coach Warren Gatland is a dreamer, so the thought of taking the silver Webb Ellis Cup back to his native New Zealand and his family home in Waihi Beach has invariably crossed his mind.

“One of the things about me,” Gatland said Friday, “is that I am probably the greatest optimist in terms of believing something is possible. That there is a dream. If you don’t have that attitude, it will not happen.”

It explains why Gatland cut such a relaxed figure as he spoke with passion, confidence and no shortage of emotion about his Wales players, two days out from their Rugby World Cup semifinal match against South Africa.

Wales has had major injury setbacks this week and is viewed as the underdog against a big, bruising Springboks lineup which has run into great form in 2019.

Gatland still has utter belief, though.

“When you want something bad enough,” he said, “when you really, really want it, then it can happen.”

Underpinning Gatland’s confidence is the hard edge he has given to his team over the past two years that currently makes Wales one of the toughest propositions in world rugby.

The Welsh haven’t lost a competitive game in 19 months. They are the reigning Six Nations champions, having completed the Grand Slam this year. They have beaten the Springboks in five of their last six meetings, an exceptional turnaround after having only beaten them once in 108 years before that.

So why, exactly, would they be written off?

“If they continue to do that over the next couple of days, that would be brilliant,” a bullish Gatland said, addressing the doubters. “Please continue to do that as it does get us up when people write us off.

“I can’t understand why people would write us off.”

Sitting next to Gatland at his last news conference before the semifinal was Alun Wyn Jones, the Wales captain and a man-mountain of a figure who epitomizes everything about this new-look, hard-to-beat Welsh team.

“The message has been to enjoy this week — you have earned the right to be here,” said Jones, exuding a fierce determination.

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