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Gatland wants Wales to kick on


British Lions head coach Warren Gatland leaves the field after the RBS Six Nations match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

British Lions head coach Warren Gatland leaves the field after the RBS Six Nations match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

British Lions head coach Warren Gatland leaves the field after the RBS Six Nations match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

Wales boss Warren Gatland is looking for his reigning RBS 6 Nations champions to kick on and really make their presence felt during a two-year countdown towards World Cup 2015.

Wales, semi-finalists at the 2011 global tournament in New Zealand, have been grouped with England and Australia next time around.

And they could make an early statement of intent during a four-Test programme next month that features appointments with Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Tonga, before starting their Six Nations title defence in February.

"We have to go in with that belief and confidence," Gatland said.

"It is not a matter of hoping you play well on the day and catch them on a bad day. We know if we go in and play well, we are good enough to win.

"If the players can stay fit, keep their form and with some youngsters coming in to put some pressure on, I think we are in a great position at the moment and we believe we can achieve something special for Welsh rugby.

"We think we have achieved a lot in the last few years and gone through some pretty good times. We think we can do better in the next few years as well.

"At times, we probably haven't performed as well as we would have liked against some of the southern hemisphere teams. Hopefully, there is enough experience now so that we can make an impact against them over the next couple of years."

Gatland has named three uncapped players in a 35-man squad for the autumn Tests.

Ospreys wing Eli Walker, Cardiff Blues centre Cory Allen and Scarlets scrum-half Rhodri Williams have all been selected, but there are no places for injured Lions backs Jamie Roberts and Alex Cuthbert.

Hooker Matthew Rees, meanwhile, is another absentee, with the former Wales captain set to undergo testicular surgery, his regional team the Blues announced.

But Perpignan back James Hook, who last started for Wales against another Test-playing country two years ago, has made the squad, which is based largely on last season's Six Nations title-winning group.

Hook is among six players in Gatland's squad that ply their trade outside Wales, including Northampton star George North, although North has full international release for the autumn series of games.

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"He (North) wasn't going anywhere unless he had the same release as the Welsh-based players," Gatland added.

"That is great for us, and most of the players who are away have negotiated full release in their contracts. It does make a difference in terms of having a couple of weeks' preparation and being available for that fourth game in the autumn.

"There are one or two who don't have that full release, and at times it is not always the easiest when they come in late and you are trying to put together combinations when you know there is a game they are not available for.

"If you are going to go away, the minimum is get full release. If you don't, you will put yourself at a disadvantage."

Gatland confirmed that he plans "a quiet chat" with scrum-half star Mike Phillips.

Bayonne number nine Phillips, who is in Gatland's autumn squad, has found himself in hot water after he allegedly attended a players' video analysis session at the French club earlier this month while under the influence of alcohol.

In a brief statement, Bayonne said: "Having met on Tuesday the players Stephen Brett, Mike Phillips and Dwayne Haare, the board of the Aviron Bayonnais Rugby Pro do not intend to communicate on the recent facts such as reported by the press.

"All the components of the club are turned to the next games to begin with the reception of Montpellier on Friday evening at the stadium Jean-Dauger."

Whether Phillips will be involved in that match remains to be seen, but there are no issues with Wales and he looks set to start the Springboks clash in Cardiff on November 9.

"All I can say is over the last campaigns with us he (Phillips) has been great," Gatland said.

"He conducted himself extremely well with the Lions in Australia, both on and off the field.

"I am expecting that same sort of attitude from him when he is involved in this (autumn) campaign.

"We will just sit down and have a quiet chat about where his head's at and what he's doing, but there will be no sanctions for him here in this set-up."

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