x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Gatland laments side's missed opportunities

Warren Gatland, the Wales coach, is urging his players to 'get back on the horse' after Sunday's 17-16 loss to South Africa. 'Good sides take it on the chin,' he says.

Adam Jones, left, Rhys Priestland, centre, and Shane Williams can only regret the missed opportunities Wales had against South Africa.
Adam Jones, left, Rhys Priestland, centre, and Shane Williams can only regret the missed opportunities Wales had against South Africa.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND // Warren Gatland, the Wales coach, has urged his players to "get back on the horse" after Sunday's 17-16 loss to South Africa in their opening game of the Rugby World Cup.

The Welsh were arguably the better side for large periods of the game, rebounding from an early Frans Steyn try with three James Hook penalties and a Toby Faletau score.

But Francois Hougaard scored a second try for the Springboks, while Rhys Priestland skewed a late drop goal in front of the posts and Hook missed a 73rd-minute penalty that would have edged Wales in front.

"It was a tough game, but in the end we weren't good enough and we lost the game," Gatland said.

"I couldn't be more proud of the players in terms of their effort. We played South Africa in Wellington and had 60 per cent of possession and territory. It's a massive step as to where we've come as a team. But at the end of the day we weren't clinical enough.

"There were a massive amount of positives. We have to get back on the horse and think about Samoa next week. Good sides take it on the chin and front up."

Next for Wales will be Samoa in Hamilton on September 18.

Gatland played down a debate over a first-half penalty by Hook that was disallowed but looked as if it had dissected the uprights.

Asked whether Wayne Barnes, the English referee, should have consulted the television match official, Gatland said: "Yes. They've got the technology.

"But you take the good with the bad. We missed a drop goal in front of the posts and James [Hook] missed a penalty that could have won us the game.

"That's the drama of sport. It's not always predictable."

Sean Edwards, the assistant coach, is confident Wales can bounce back.

"They're young, fit and have got no fear," he said.

"This situation we found ourselves in is an opportunity to show our true character."

Peter de Villiers, the South Africa coach, played down concerns over his side's performance, saying a positive result was the only thing that mattered.

"What a brilliant start for us," de Villiers said. "We always knew it was probably going to be tough.

"It was very hard. I enjoyed this one. They never allowed us to get going.

"It was a test of character. We came to win the first one, and we achieved that goal."

South Africa suffered a blow when they lost Jean de Villiers, the centre (ribs), halfway through the first half and the lock, Victor Matfield (hamstring), early in the second half to injury.

De Villiers said: "We're very worried about them.

"But we'll do a full assessment over the next 24 hours as we normally do because we want to be completely accurate in those things."

John Smit, the captain, said the weight of expectation from a demanding South African public had led to "extra pressure" on the team, but was left "delighted" by the result.

"The tournament's about only one thing. It's only about results in the World Cup," he said.

* Agencies