sport

Gatland: It's all in the head

Warren Gatland has rejected any notion that Wales might be suffering a severe hangover from their memorable World Cup and Six Nations exploits.

Wales go into Saturday's Millennium Stadium appointment with world champions New Zealand on the back of successive home defeats against Argentina and Samoa.

Gatland, who was away on preparatory British and Irish Lions business for next summer's Australia tour while those losses unfolded, is back in charge this week and when Wales meet Australia on December 1.

And he admits the biggest challenge will be a mental one as Wales target victory over a revered rugby nation they last beat 59 years ago, suffering 24 subsequent defeats.

"We've chatted about the disappointments of the last two weeks and getting things back on track this week," said head coach Gatland, whose five changes from the 26-19 Samoa loss see recalls for centre Jonathan Davies, fly-half Rhys Priestland, hooker Matthew Rees, lock Luke Charteris and skipper Sam Warburton.

"It is not a physical issue, it's just getting the head right.

"Yes, we've had a couple of disappointing weeks, but I think the benefit of that will be shown in the next couple of years in terms of what the players have experienced and coaches have experienced.

"Long-term, it will be good for the development of Welsh rugby. It will make people stronger and better going forward.

"We've set pretty high standards in the last 12 months, and I suppose that comes back to the expectation from everyone that we've performed to a certain level.

"We know we haven't done that in the last couple of weeks, so it is important we get that right for the next couple."

Wales were 2011 World Cup semi-finalists - their best performance on the global stage since 1987 - and then won a second Six Nations title and Grand Slam of Gatland's 54-Test reign.

And it is against that back-drop - Wales will field 10 survivors this weekend from the team beaten by Australia in the World Cup bronze medal match 13 months ago - that their current dismal form is compared.

"We were really pleased with the way the World Cup went, and then there was pressure for us to perform in the Six Nations, and we coped with that and performed well," Gatland added.

"I don't think it is a World Cup hangover or a Six Nations hangover. We have just gone through a bit of a dip.

"The players are well aware that some of their form has not been as strong as it possibly could be. There is a little bit of a confidence issue with one or two.

"Some of them are dealing for the first time with some criticism that has come from the outside. It has been quite personal for some of them, but they've got to learn to cope with that.

"They've had criticism within the media and some players have had a bit of abuse on Twitter. It's how you handle it and move forward.

"I think all of us will be stronger for the experiences of the last two weeks."

Scarlets midfield powerhouse Davies has recovered from a groin problem to make his first appearance of the autumn series, replacing Ashley Beck, while Priestland takes over from Dan Biggar, who was not considered because of a shoulder injury.

Former Wales captain Rees, meanwhile, returns to the front-row, where he will pack down alongside Paul James and Aaron Jarvis, with Charteris in for Ian Evans, who has taken only a limited part in training due to knee trouble, and openside flanker Warburton replacing Justin Tipuric.

There is also a first call-up to the bench this season for Scarlets forward Aaron Shingler, while 92 times-capped Gethin Jenkins is one of the prop replacements, with James preferred as starting loosehead.

Wales' alarming form slump has seen them drop to eighth place in the International Rugby Board world rankings, upon which next month's 2015 World Cup pool draw will be based.

Defeat against New Zealand, meanwhile, would make it six reversals in a row against all opponents, something they have not experienced since 2002-03 when current All Blacks boss Steve Hansen coached Wales.

"We know we have let ourselves down and the fans down the last couple of weeks, and I am sure there will be a bounce-back, hopefully for this weekend," Gatland said.

"We are well aware of the task in playing the best team in the world at the moment, and probably one of the best teams the All Blacks have ever produced.

"When you play a quality side, and particularly the best team in the world, it does put you on edge."