TWICKENHAM, United Kingdom (AFP) – Wales coach Warren Gatland insisted the “biggest prize” was still to come after his side suffered a 33-19 defeat by England in their opening Rugby World Cup warm-up match at Twickenham last Sunday night.
Had Wales avoided defeat, they would have replaced New Zealand at the top of the world rankings after the world champion All Blacks’ shock 47-26 defeat by Australia in Perth last Saturday.
But instead the Six Nations Grand Slam champions went down to a convincing loss that ended their 14-match unbeaten streak.
Gatland, however, played down the impact of a defeat in the first of four warm-up matches ahead of a World Cup in Japan starting next month.
“It’s a nice accolade (world number one), but the biggest prize is a couple of months away in Japan,” said Gatland, who will stand down as Wales boss after the tournament.
“Whoever wins the World Cup is the number one in the world,” the New Zealander, looking to lead Wales to their first global title, added.
England were 21-7 ahead at half-time after scoring three converted tries, but Wales closed to within five points midway through the second half after tries by scrum-half Gareth Davies and wing George North.
England, however, pulled away thanks to three penalties from fly-half George Ford, their captain in the absence of the rested Owen Farrell, before full-back Elliot Daly added a late drop-goal.
“We got back into the game at 24-19, and I thought we were going to win from there,” said Gatland, whose side face England in a return warm-up match in Cardiff next weekend.
“We started creating a lot of momentum, and I was pleased with that,” he added.
“I was disappointed with that first half with too many turnovers. We just didn’t keep possession for long enough periods to create the momentum we needed.
“England did what they’re good at. Their scrum was excellent, they drove the line-outs well and they were pretty direct in the way they played.
“We’ve got some things to tidy up on to negate that.”
His view was endorsed by Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, with the veteran lock saying: “If you have a steady scrum and maul you have momentum, and if you don’t you’re chasing.
“We probably negated more of it after that first 30 minutes but you don’t really want to be chasing the game like we were in the first half.”
Of arguably even greater concern to Wales than the actual result was when Gareth Anscombe went off with a knee injury in the 34th minute that left the fly-half having to use crutches.
“I spoke to the physios, and he has got to get a scan,” Gatland said of Anscombe.
“If it is just a strain of the ligament, then he will be out for a few weeks, and obviously we will know more details after the scan.”