Warren Gatland shows softer side and wants Wales to open up

Gatland, after a World Cup campaign notable for the courage and spirit of the players but not their finishing power, has picked a side that, while retaining a physical edge, have firepower behind and a back row including two openside flankers in Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric, who are equipped for a wide game. Opponents have said they know what to expect from Wales but Ireland will have reason to think.

There were no mind games from Gatland as he used his team announcement to bathe Ireland, the Six Nations champions in 2014 and last year, in compliments, unless that itself is seen as a form of psychological warfare.His only target was the media, whom he accused of hamming up an interview with the wing George North to make it, in his view, look as if the player was accusing his club, Northampton, over a lack of scoring opportunities this season, when he was being self-critical.

The return of James, who rejoined Cardiff Blues this season from Exeter where he was unable to nail down a first-team place, was not a surprise in terms of form. But at the age of 29 and after more than five years since his last cap, the recall showed a characteristic that has not always been apparent in Gatland: forgiveness.In 2008 James gave an interview in which he said he was better than players being chosen ahead of him; two years later he walked out on the squad after a teenager, Tom Prydie, was selected instead.

“Young men make mistakes and do things they regret,” said Gatland. “You have to give the coaches credit for not dwelling on the past when someone was a little immature. Tom has come back a different person. We’ve recognised that and can start again. It’s about what he’s achieved on the field at the moment. He deserves his opportunity.”

James credits Exeter for his recall. “The coaches there helped improve my all-round game and everyone has seen the difference since I returned to the Blues,” he said. “I went away and grew up.I made mistakes with Wales in the past and I know I was not playing well enough to be selected. I was emotional after the team was read out and it will be like winning my first cap on Sunday.”

Jenkins is set to win his 120th cap from the bench as Gatland charts a dignified end to the 35-year-old’s international career. Rob Evans will play at loosehead prop, not Jenkins’s regular deputy over the years, Paul James, who is unlikely to be around for the 2019 World Cup.With Jérôme Garcès, who in recent years has consistently penalised Jenkins for not scrummaging straight, refereeing and Ireland having front-row problems Gatland took it as an opportune time to take a look at the future.

“Part of our decision was the referee, who I consider to be the best in the world with Nigel Owens,” said Gatland. “Gethin has been around for a long time and we spoke on a few occasions during the World Cup about what happens to him. He knows he is not going to get through to 2019 and it is about how we manage bringing someone on as a replacement and a potential exit strategy. The discussions have been positive.We will respect what he has achieved and done for Welsh rugby.”

Wales’s bench also includes the flanker Dan Lydiate, who was not chosen to start because, like Warburton, he had just returned from injury. It boasts 364 caps, giving Gatland experience to call on at a ground where Wales were routed in 2014 but, with Tipuric to the fore, edged a close encounter before last year’s World Cup.

Wales have a more pragmatic feel as they absorb the end to their World Cup campaign when an inability to score tries despite creating opportunities cost them against Australia and South Africa.Gareth Anscombe will operate as a first receiver option from full-back while James and North will be encouraged to run back poor kicks and scan for space.

“I would like to see the championship being open,” said Gatland. “The end of last year’s tournament showed what sides are capable of when the shackles are off. I would like to see players have the freedom to play and be positive, but results have become more important than performances. I hope the weather on Sunday allows us to play a bit of rugby and get Justin Tipuric into the wide channels. We know with Ireland that we will have a challenge to rise to.”