Warren Gatland is ready to turn to George North to help pick up the pieces of Wales’ Six Nations campaign.
The Wales coach will start North against Italy next week after the wing made a big impact when he came on as a replacement during the 37-27 defeat to Ireland on Saturday.
In what sounded like an admission he wished he had started the Northampton player from the start in Dublin – possibly in place of Liam Williams, rather than Steff Evans – Gatland suggested the return of North would be one of several changes he intended to make for the visit of the Italians to Cardiff on March 11.
North has rarely been at his best for Wales over the last 12 months, but looked sharp and hard to handle when he came on at the Aviva Stadium.
“He [North] was good,” said Gatland. “I really thought he looked dangerous, so it is nice to start developing a bit of depth in those back-three positions.
“It was good to see him get back on the field, he looked dangerous. Having that size and firepower is definitely going to give us another string to our bow.
“We need to make some changes against Italy because we want to see where some of the squad is at this level. Can they handle international rugby?
“The focus changes a little bit. It is important we try and finish in that top three, but also start thinking long term in terms of the development for the World Cup.”
Wales’ second defeat of the tournament means Gatland has conceded any chance of remaining in the contest for the title and has re-focussed the target as finishing in the top three.
He blamed his team’s poor discipline against an Ireland team who run hard and straight and are powerfully direct once they get near the try-line.
Gatland’s side made 225 tackles in the game as Ireland dominated possession and territory, while the visitors’ penalty count – higher than in either of their opening two matches against Scotland and England – proved costly.
“The disappointing thing from our point of view is that the things we worked on during the week and spoke about in the week came back to haunt us like the discipline, being prepared to go through lots and lots of phases against an Irish team without giving anything away,” Gatland said.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t do that, and when they got close to our line they were very good.
“We spoke about discipline and how important that was against an Irish team who thrive on playing through lots of phases and squeezing you, and if they do get penalties they are generally pretty clinical at converting them into threes or five points.
“To me, that was the real disappointing thing, particularly from the first half. There were a couple of tight calls in that, but we were the victims of our own demise as well. There were a couple of stupid penalties given away.
“The referee was communicating with the players and on a few occasions we didn’t listen to what he was saying, whether it was ‘tackler release’ or ‘do not play that’.
“We were also the victims of our own demise, there were a couple of stupid penalties given away.
“It is an area that we have worked really hard on so we have gone like two steps forwards and one step backwards.
“We need to be honest with ourselves and be better for the next couple of games.”
Gatland felt Wales played into Ireland’s hands by allowing the game to be continually stopped by the referee’s whistle, instead of producing a free-flowing game where he felt his team’s stamina would have proved decisive.
“We looked at the stats over the years when we have played Ireland and anything over 44 minutes we have won the games and anything 37 or below they have won the games.
“They have managed that and controlled the game well in terms of momentum.
“We saw in the last 10 minutes, it was stop-start; every time the whistle went, someone went down and it slowed down the tempo of the game. We have got to be able to adjust to that.
“But we scored 27 points and quite conceivably we could have scored with the last play of the game.
“If Stockdale doesn’t get the intercept, or we pass out the back, we potentially score there.
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