Gareth Thomas, who earned 100 caps for Wales, hopes the current side can build on that momentum as they prepare for Saturday’s crunch clash against England at Twickenham, where he admitted there is little room for lowering of expectations
Gareth Thomas has urged Wales to learn quickly from their first-half horror show against Scotland but called for patience with Warren Gatland’s inexperienced side.
A torrid opening 40 minutes saw Wales go into half time 20-0 down at home to Scotland in their Six Nations opener last week, before valiantly fighting back with 26 unanswered points to fall just short of an astonishing comeback.
Thomas, who earned 100 caps for Wales, hopes the current side can build on that momentum as they prepare for Saturday’s crunch clash against England at Twickenham, where he admitted there is little room for lowering of expectations.
“Wales are going to want to bottle that second half performance because as much as Scotland stopped playing, Wales were dominant,” said Thomas. “I really hope that the Wales team don’t forget about the first half.
“It is very easy to focus on the good performance in the second half but the learnings will come from the lack of performance in the first half. They need to focus on what went wrong in order to do it right at the weekend.
“We are still taking about a very youthful and inexperienced team, but leeway of expectations around a poor performance or a loss will very quickly turn into the expectations that we need to start winning now.
“They learned last week, in what was a terrible first half performance, the importance of living in the moment and grasping that moment. It is something they will certainly look at and want to better this weekend. What a perfect fixture, what a perfect venue to go and do it.
“Everything about this event relies on living in that moment and making sure you be the best version of yourself in that moment, don’t crumble under the pressure and the noise.
“It is starting with that blend of youth and excitement but not making mistakes, not allowing themselves to be dominated by England and all of those small lessons put together could be a perfect storm for the Welsh team.”
Expectations for this year’s Six Nations are low for a Wales side much-changed from the one that reached the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup last autumn.
Experienced faces such as Alun Wyn Jones and Leigh Halfpenny have retired, while injuries have ruled out many others and star wing Louis Rees-Zammit quit the sport last month to pursue a career in the NFL.
It has left Gatland with a hugely inexperienced squad but Thomas feels the Kiwi is the perfect man to bring in a new era of Welsh rugby, starting in England’s backyard on Saturday.
“There is so much for these players to offer us as a nation,” added Thomas, speaking on National HIV Testing Week as part of his trailblazing Tackle HIV campaign. “It really is exciting and what I try to do is hold people back and get people to realise they aren’t the full package that they can be in a couple of years.
“I am as excited as anybody about the potential of this team but it is holding expectations together to allow them in a place to be the best version of themselves they can be.
“What he [Gatland] does and what he is very good at is preparing teams and saying the right things at the right times. I am sure a lot of that second half performance is because of what he said at half time. He will have high expectations. He expects high standards for himself and his players, he understands the importance as much as anyone else of Wales v England and what it means to the nation.
“He knows what it takes to go to Twickenham and win. He has done it with teams before that were underdogs and went to Twickenham not expecting to do much and have come away with a win.”
Thomas is the face of the Tackle HIV campaign, an initiative that aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV.
National HIV Testing Week takes place from the 5 to 11 February and Thomas is urging everyone to get tested, even if you don’t think you need to. He added: “This week is about getting people to understand that the stigma surrounding HIV is still very much a problem and that comes down to testing as well.
“People feel like HIV only affects a certain characteristic and is predominantly in gay and bisexual men or black men and women but the reality is very different. It’s a virus which can affect everyone.
“Getting tested has changed over the years to make it easier over the years to help dispel those stigmas so you can now get order a test to your home. The medicine has changed so much in the past years but sadly we still live with those 1980s stigmas around us.”
Tackle HIV is a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and Terrence Higgins Trust and aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For more information visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv