GATLAND GUNNING FOR SERIES WIN
– Wales head coach Warren Gatland is targeting an historic Test series win in South Africa and wants a marker to be set in Tuesday’s tour opener against the Eastern Province Kings.
Wales have never beaten the Springboks on South African soil and few are giving them a chance during this two-Test series given the likes of Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny, Richard Hibbard, Rhys Priestland, Justin Tipuric and Scott Williams are missing through injury.
Gatland’s men were beaten 2-0 when they last toured South Africa in 2008 but, with the World Cup 15 months away, the Kiwi knows how important it will be for Wales to improve their poor record against the southern hemisphere’s big three of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
“The target is to win,” he said.
“I had only just been in charge when we were here in 2008. We were well beaten in the first Test and came back and were unlucky in the second Test.
“We were in front and had a couple of rough calls go against us in the second Test.
“We need to start well and get some confidence and hopefully we can win.
“A couple of years ago in Australia we were very unlucky, we were close to South Africa in the autumn and we are not here to make up the numbers.
“We are here to build, get some confidence and hopefully to win the series.”
Before the Test series gets under way, Wales will face the Kings, who play in the domestic Currie Cup tournament, in Port Elizbeth on Tuesday.
Gatland has handed Lions flanker Dan Lydiate the captaincy as the tough-tackling Racing Metro back-rower looks to prove his fitness after five weeks out with a hamstring injury.
Three of the four uncapped players in the touring party – Matthew Morgan, Jordan Williams and Steven Shingler – are handed the chance to impress, with the experience of fly-half James Hook, wing Alex Cuthbert and lock Ian Evans also called upon.
Gatland is the first to admit he knows very little about the Kings, who are to enter Super Rugby in 2016 and are coached by former All Black Carlos Spencer, but is demanding a good performance against a typically robust South African side.
“I don’t know a lot about them,” he said.
“This is a cross as to whether they are in Currie Cup mode or getting ready for Super Rugby. But we are looking forward to it, getting to Port Elizabeth.
“It’s a lovely place and a good stadium and it will be a massive challenge.
“Just because we don’t know a lot about them does not mean they will not be typical South African side, they will be tough and physical.
“But we need to start this tour on the front foot and we will be looking for a good performance ahead of that first Test.”
It is the first time Lydiate has been asked to lead Wales, although he did skipper the Lions against Melbourne Rebels last summer.
Gatland has no doubt he is up to the task.
He said: “He did a good job captaining the Lions and I am sure he will do so again. He needs some rugby and has been unfortunate.
“He was playing some good rugby towards the end of the Six Nations and was getting some more rugby with Racing Metro, but he pulled his hamstring.
“But he is a guy who gets better with rugby under his belt.” – Press a Association