Wales coach Warren Gatland praises World Cup build-up

Wales players training at the Millennium Stadium in June
Gatland says Wales will be "fitter than ever" for the World Cup in New Zealand

Improved mental toughness and fitness will ensure Wales will compete against the best teams at the 2011 World Cup, according to coach Warren Gatland.

As they gear up for the tournament, which starts in September, the Wales squad has attended two separate intensive training camps in Poland.

And Gatland believes the hard work will prove vital in New Zealand.

"It was tough physically, it was tough mentally and the players were pushed hard," Gatland told BBC Wales Sport.

"They responded extremely well. It was about building that mental toughness - something we've been criticised for [not posessing].

"We know we've got good footballers and they're in pretty good shape physically.

"But sometimes it's that mental edge that has cost us games in the past when we haven't quite switched on or had a little lapse in concentration or haven't quite nailed a critical moment in a game and it's been incredibly costly."

Gatland is a firm believer in the benefits of using the training facility in the remote village of Spala in Poland, having trained there while coach of Ireland and London Wasps.

The centre, which opened in 2000 and is used by many of Poland's Olympic athletes, has become synonymous with cryotherapyexternal-link - the use of extreme low temperatures to accelerate recovery time and injury rehabilitation.

It's main purpose for Wales, said Gatland, was to allow him to cram as much training as possible into a short period of time.

"We were able to do more sessions with more intensity than we would have been able to do back here in Wales or at some other venue," said 47-year-old Gatland.

"It was tough physically, it was tough mentally and the players were pushed hard. They responded extremely well.

"It was nice to feel you were a club side and having a pre-season preparing for the start of the season."

The Wales squad have grown accustomed to the plush surroundings of a four-star hotel near their training base on the outskirts of Cardiff.

Their perceived pampered lifestyle has prompted disapproval, especially from some past internationals, when results on the pitch have been poor.

But Gatland, who has been forced to deal with a spate of off-field controversies involving some squad members, says the players showed a faultless attitude and appetite for hard work.

"People might think we went to some flash resort, but it's definitely not like that at all," said the New Zealander, who is under contract until the 2015 World Cup.

Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric
Justin Tipuric's work ethic in training has caught Gatland's eye

"It's very basic in terms of the accommodation - one-star hotel stuff, but the facilities are excellent. Spala is in the middle of nowhere so there were no temptations.

"In fairness to the players, they called both camps to be dry so there was no drinking. We didn't go out and have a drink at all.

"The whole focus was rugby and just concentrating on that and preparing for the World Cup."

Gatland was also keen to stress the amount of skill work undertaken in Poland, and named Cardiff Blues scrum-half Lloyd Williams and Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric as two of the younger squad members to impress by showing "no inhibitions" and pushing some of the established faces.

The focus now turns to putting the theory into practice as Wales prepare for three warm-up games - home and away against England on 6 and 13 August, followed by Argentina's visit to Cardiff a week later.

Four years ago, Gatland's predecessor, Gareth Jenkins, saw his World Cup plans dismantle when his under-strength side crashed to a record 62-5 humiliation against England in their first warm-up match.

Jenkins' reign ended less than two months later when defeat by Fiji ended hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.

"If you went and spoke to Gareth Jenkins he would say if he had his opportunity again he wouldn't pick the same side [against England]," added Gatland.

"We need to go up to Twickenham with a strong side. We need to give a good performance and build on that and get some confidence out of that first match."

Listen to more from Warren Gatland on BBC Radio Wales' The Back Page

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