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Wales coach Warren Gatland backing Rhys Priestland to respond to his critics

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: November 21, 2012

Rhys Priestland

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WALES coach Warren Gatland believes Rhys Priestland will battle his way through the criticism that has been hurled his way over the past fortnight.

The Scarlets fly-half has been restored to the No. 10 jersey for Saturday's clash with world champions New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium — one of five changes to the side shocked by Samoa last Friday.

Priestland was hailed as one of Wales's key men at the 2011 World Cup, a player who made Gatland's side tick behind the scrum.

However, like many of Wales's leading players, he has struggled to hit such heights this autumn.

With Dan Biggar still nursing the shoulder injury he picked up against Samoa and James Hook unlikely to be available against Australia next week, Priestland is handed another chance to silence his critics in Cardiff on Saturday. But Gatland believes the flak, including abuse on social networking sites, is proving tough for the 25-year-old to deal with.

"If you can handle it you will come through better for it, but it has been tough for him, tough for him personally," said the New Zealander.

"He was number two at the Scarlets and that can be quite easy with no pressure on you. He then gets thrown in two minutes before kick-off at Twickenham, has a great World Cup, good Six Nations and when he has played well Wales have played well.

"But he has taken the brunt of a lot of criticism over the last couple of weeks and he hasn't experienced that before.

"Yes, we could have made changes, but there are certain players we need to support and back.

"We are well aware of the pressures he has been under, but one of the things that attracted us to Rhys Priestland was the confidence he displayed and a slight cockiness that you look for in a ten — that ability to control the game and the people around him.

"At the moment he has found that challenging and tough because he has faced a lot of criticism.

"We see an incredibly talented player that is just not playing quite as well as he can.

"But we expect him to go out there and perform on Saturday."

Priestland slots into the same back division that took the field for Wales's Grand Slam match against France in March.

His regional colleague Jonathan Davies, who Gatland yesterday hailed as 'world class' makes a welcome return from a groin injury, while flanker Sam Warburton reclaims the captaincy from Ryan Jones with Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric dropping down to the replacements.

Lock Ian Evans has failed to overcome a knee injury picked up against Samoa so Luke Charteris starts at lock alongside Bradley Davies, while Paul James is preferred to Gethin Jenkins at loose-head prop.

Former captain Matthew Rees is also back at hooker after passing a fitness test on his calf strain.

Gatland is taking charge for the first time this autumn, having handed over the reins to attack coach Rob Howley for the defeats to Argentina and Samoa.

And he is demanding a big response from his players against a New Zealand team he believes is one of the finest to have visited these shores.

"We have had a couple of tough weeks, but we are not as poor as we have been over the last couple of weeks," he added.

"This New Zealand team is one of the best rugby sides to have ever played the game and probably the best All Blacks side ever.

"There have been times perhaps in the past when Welsh sides have lost the game before taking the field so we are going to go out there and try to throw something a bit different at the All Blacks to try to put them under pressure.

"If you just try and compete with them, you are going to come off second best.

"You have got to be prepared to take a few risks, which we will try to do on the weekend."

Robert Lloyd

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  • VISIONSKI  |  November 21 2012, 4:21PM

    The biggest plus for Wales is the return of Jonathan Davies,he will go forward and create space out wide providing the forwards can win enough clean ball. Wales surely missed him at centre. Preistland is lacking confidence but playing Jonathan will help him, other advice to him would be to stay off social media web sites. Wales do have alot of injuries to key personel but need to concider that they were probably the third best side during the World Cup. Every player must give their best that`s all you can ask for.

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  • Blackmamba  |  November 21 2012, 1:31PM

    The criticism of Rhys Priestland has been well deserved, he has not played in any game since the World cup where you would mark him above 6 out of 10 and many have been a 3 or 4. The body language and demeanor in the above photograph is typical of a man totally lacking in confidence and form. The main problem though, I believe is higher up, namely Rob Howley. If he is supposed to be an attack coach why is it that a very talented back line is so toothless and predictable and his record as an interim coach says it all, PLAYED 5 LOST 5. The Wales management are persisting with 'out of form' players and not giving 'hot' players such as Justin Tiperic and Ashley Beck a decent run in the side, dual standards and hypocricy are words that spring to mind!

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  • ourgrampa  |  November 21 2012, 12:50PM

    What a mistake to choose Preistland again To have an inept player in such a pivitol position is absolutely silly he has now nothing to prove that he should be in this postition he came on last week Wales were in front the end result was a loss I am for giving guys a chance but this is obviously a reflection on Wales's problem in decision making Wales are going to hard hit without the added problem of a non thinker slow pass and silly kicking . I hope the roof will be open and it absolutely pours down this is the only way to even up a predictable loss. Sorry for the other Wales supporters who may dissagree but we all have eyes and not only Preistland needs to step up there were a lot of lazy people in the pitch hanging on , all that said I still wish them all the best an ex pat but always a Welshman after all from South Australia

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