Gatland expects improved showing

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Rugby Union - New Zealand All Blacks v British and Irish Lions - Lions Tour - Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand - July 8, 2017 - Lions coach Warren Gatland before the match. REUTERS/Jason Reed

ROME (Reuters) – Wales coach Warren Gatland says his side will step up their performance for their crucial Six Nations contest against England in Cardiff on Feb. 23 after they came through a scrappy 26-15 victory over Italy on Saturday.

Gatland had made 10 changes to the side that won in Paris in their tournament opener and they never quite clicked into gear in Rome, scoring two second-half tries as Wales relied largely on the boot of flyhalf Dan Biggar.

“You’re not always brilliant and we weren’t. We will be a lot better against England,” Gatland told reporters. “A lot of people will write us off, which is a good position to be in. Hopefully we’ll go under the radar.”

He also gave credit to Italy, who he said made it difficult for his team to find their rhythm in attack.

“A lot of people will look to criticise us but you have to give Italy some credit for how they played,” he said. “That’s probably the best Italian performance I’ve seen since I’ve been in charge of Wales.” Gatland suggested that the raft of changes to the side was with this year’s Rugby World Cup in mind.

“I was looking at the bigger picture. We want to have as good a World Cup as we can. That was the plan all along,” he added. “If it was a normal year, on reflection, maybe we wouldn’t have made so many changes. We wanted to give everyone in the 31 (man squad) an opportunity to be involved in the first two games.”

Wales could break a 109-year team record if they beat England as it would be a 12th consecutive test victory.

“We didn’t speak about the record at all this week but we will probably talk about it before England,” Gatland said.

“If this group of players achieve that, it’ll be something nobody can take away from them.

“We’ve got a chance, we’re at home, the stadium will be full, it’ll be some atmosphere at the Principality Stadium.

“So there will definitely be no lack of motivation in trying to beat England and break that record.”

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