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Rugby World Cup 2023: Wales coach Warren Gatland reveals nerves before Fiji opener

Warren Gatland has reached two semi-finals and a quarter-final in three World Cup with Wales
Warren Gatland has reached two semi-finals and a quarter-final in three World Cups as Wales coach

Rugby World Cup 2023: Fiji v Wales

Venue: Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux Date: Sunday, 10 Sept Kick-off: 20:00 BST

Coverage: Live BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sounds, BBC Sport website & app; live text commentary on BBC Sport website & app.

He might be preparing for a fifth World Cup but Wales head coach Warren Gatland is still on edge before their opener against Fiji in Bordeaux.

This will be his fourth global campaign with Wales alongside his stint as Ireland boss in 1999, but he is not immune to pre-tournament jitters.

"I still get nervous myself, I think nerves are always a positive," said Gatland.

"You feel helpless as a coach, that's the hardest thing, so there'll be some nerves before and probably during the game.

"I spoke to the coaches about us this week not talking too much, not over-coaching and allowing the players to take responsibility today and tomorrow.

"I was pleased to see them do that. They look very clear in their own minds about what they want to achieve on Sunday.

"When you're nervous about the game or what potentially might happen, it focuses the mind in terms of what's coming.

"There's nothing wrong with that. I see it as a positive in terms of the players being right on the edge in terms of their preparation just before the game."

Gatland is content the build-up has been less controversial than for previous campaigns.

Whether that be the last World Cup in Japan in 2019 when attack coach Rob Howley was sent home a few days before the tournament opener against Georgia because of betting breaches.

Or the chaos during the 2023 Six Nations with players threatening to strike and not play the England game before that crisis was averted.

There have been no such issues this time around in France. It has been more of a low-key build-up with four months' graft going into the game in Bordeaux on Sunday.

"It's been fantastic," said Gatland. "I'm pleased at just having that whole preparation for the World Cup.

"We've been able to do that detail you don't often get to do during the Six Nations.

"We've had some new faces come in, which has been great for the group. A lot of young players have got some experience.

"We've had some issues in Welsh rugby. Hopefully those are behind us now and we can completely focus on this World Cup."

Gatland added: "There's a great atmosphere within the group in terms of getting that balance of when we have to work hard and when there's times to have a laugh and a joke.

"That makes the atmosphere more special. Having that time and preparation and putting some of those things that happened in the Six Nations behind us has been a real positive."

Wales at their training base in Bordeaux
Wales at their training base in Bordeaux

Gatland believes the gruelling camps in Turkey and Switzerland have helped form that bond, so does he believe Wales are the fittest side in the competition?

"It's not whether I believe it, but whether the boys believe it," said Gatland.

"We've worked incredibly hard and the boys have been through some tough, gruelling camps and sessions.

"From that point of view, we can take a huge amount of confidence going into the World Cup.

"In international rugby, you have to go to dark places and have to be hurting. It's whether other teams are hurting that little bit more than you."

Gatland has no doubt Wales are fully conditioned for Bordeaux's blistering heat. Water breaks have been confirmed by World Rugby, with Gatland saying earlier in the week he was not in favour of them as he backed his squad's fitness.

"Everyone is talking about the heat being an advantage to Fiji, but we've had some pretty gruelling sessions in heat so we are conditioned to that," added Gatland.

'Best Fiji side'

Fiji will provide the first significant test after an impressive World Cup run-in which has seen them rise to seventh in the world rankings, above Pool C rivals Wales (10th) and Australia (ninth).

"This is a quality Fiji side," said Gatland.

"The advent of Super Rugby has been a huge boost for them, playing in a top quality competition week-in, week-out.

"A lot of their other players are either in France or the UK. That gives them the quality to be playing at that top level on a regular basis. That's definitely strengthened their side."

Wales wing Josh Adams echoed the sentiments from Gatland, four years after he scored a hat-trick against Fiji in a 29-17 World Cup win.

"They have got a lot better since we played them in 2019," said Adams.

"Their game looks a lot more structured and this is probably the toughest Fiji team we would have faced.

"With this Fiji team, anything below excellent might not be enough. We all understand that.

"As a team, we are desperate to get out and play now and the excitement from us is there."