No grudges for Gatland
Warren Gatland (Getty Images)
Cardiff - Wales coach Warren Gatland has insisted the champions' upcoming Six Nations match against Ireland would not be blighted by any lingering fall-out from his relationship with Brian O'Driscoll.
Gatland, who as Ireland coach gave the star centre his Test debut, came in for fierce criticism when, as British and Irish Lions boss, he dropped the Irish centre great for the deciding final Test against Australia in Sydney last year, which the combined side won 41-16 to seal a 2-1 series triumph.
"As far as I am concerned, that's dead and gone," Gatland said after seeing Wales launch their bid for an unprecedented third straight outright Six Nations title with a hard-fought 23-15 win over Italy in Cardiff on Saturday.
"It's not about Brian and myself. Brian has moved on, I have moved on. It is about 46 players and two nations playing an international next weekend.
"The game is more important than myself and Brian, and if people want to make an issue out of that for next week, to me it is just lazy journalism. Move on," the New Zealander insisted ahead of Ireland's tournament bow at home to Scotland on Sunday.
On paper, Wales could not have wished for a better fixture with which to launch their hat-trick quest than a Millennium Stadium clash against Italy.
The Azzurri kicked off having lost their last 15 Six Nations fixtures away from Rome.
Everything was going Wales's way as they established a 14-point lead at the break after first-half tries by wing Alex Cuthbert and centre Scott Williams.
But Italy came storming back into the match courtesy of a second-half try double from impressive centre Michele Campagnaro only for a couple of late penalties from Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny to seal a home win.
"It was tough," said Gatland. "We've got to give Italy a lot of credit."
The Azzurri won twice during last season's Six Nations and Gatland forecast further Italian success in this edition.
"We definitely kept them in the game in terms of a couple of crucial turnovers and an intercept, but we are off to a reasonable start and I wouldn't be surprised if Italy win a few games in this competition."
However, Gatland was glad to see Wales come through a hard-fought opener.
"It will focus the minds for next week (when Wales play Ireland in Dublin on February 8). It wasn't an easy run-out and it was tough, which was the way we wanted it.
"There are just a few things for us to fix up on in terms of making sure we are a bit more accurate and clinical. We know we get stronger as a tournament goes on. It's that first one, and now we can look forward to the rest of it."
Meanwhile Italy captain Sergio Parisse was proud of the way an injury-hit side featuring several novice backs had performed in the cauldron of Cardiff.
"Before this match against Wales we were worried about our young backs because we conceded a lot of tries in the November Tests," said Parisse, who on Saturday was a member of the most experienced pack ever to take the field in an international, with nearly 600 caps between the eight forwards.
"I think we are happy for the performance, obviously a loss is a loss so we are not happy about the result," the world-class No 8 added. "But we are proud."
Italy, who beat France 23-18 in Rome last year, now travel to Paris to face 'Les Bleus', fresh from their thrilling 26-24 victory over England on Saturday.
Parisse, who plays his club rugby in the French capital for Stade Francais, urged the Azzurri not to let-up.
"I said to the guys 'we mustn't just think we've played a good game (against Wales) and in France next week it's going to be easier'.
"In France, it's going to be 30 times more difficult. We must keep working and building in this tournament."