Warren Gatland returns to Wales to face task of his career
WARREN Gatland is readying himself for the challenge of his rugby life — how to stop Wales's winless autumn descending into crushing humiliation when New Zealand visit the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
The Kiwi will return to duty with his side staring down both barrels of a loaded shotgun after their defeat by Samoa. While Wales were coming to terms with their 26-19 loss at the hands of the islanders, the All Blacks extended their unbeaten run to 19 games with a 42-10 win over Italy, six days after putting 51 points on Scotland.
And with injuries piling up in the Welsh camp and confidence at rock bottom, there are real fears the reigning Grand Slam champions could be destroyed in front of their own supporters.
For Gatland, who has been working for the Lions over the past fortnight, the test will be as big as he has faced in his career. Wales's players are adamant caretaker coach Rob Howley isn't to blame for a run of five straight defeats, but the return of the boss is expected to pep them.
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Centre Ashley Beck said of Gatland's return to the set up: "It's bound to help — he's a top coach. Warren, Shaun Edwards and Rob work really well together.
"It will be great to have him back."
Beck insisted the finger shouldn't be pointed at Howley. "Rob's been great with us," he said. "It's just the boys haven't performed very well as a side.
"Rob has just used the game-plan we've always used.
"It's just one of those things at the minute. Hopefully, it's a blip."
The suspected shoulder injuries to Richard Hibbard and Dan Biggar and the knee problem sustained by Ian Evans added to the gloom in Cardiff.
Wales's coaches were left doubting the legality of the hits that crocked Hibbard and Biggar, with the ruck clear-out that smashed the fly-half's face and shoulder looking reckless at best.
New Zealand will hit hard as well — but will also bring with them skills and technical ability that make them the world's best side by some distance.
"If we don't get up for a game like this, everyone knows what's going to happen," added Beck, Wales's try scorer against Samoa.
"We just have to pick ourselves up and not dwell on what happened against Samoa."
Meanwhile, WRU chief executive Roger Lewis has revealed he is confident an agreement between the regions and the governing body over the financial issues which have dogged Welsh rugby will be reached before the new year.