Warren Gatland was appointed Wales head coach in November 2007, 11 years on the Kiwi is still in the job and has completely changed what is expected of Welsh Rugby. Before Gatland’s appointment Wales were a country in disarray, Gareth Jenkins disastrous tenure ended in Wales exiting the group stages in 2007 World Cup and led to his eventual sacking. In Six Nations the Welsh were consistently inconsistent with 2005 Grand slam being the only bit of light in a siege of darkness. In the 2007 Six Nations championship Wales finished 5th with 4 defeats in 5 matches, next year Gatland guided Wales to their 10th Grand Slam.
“I can look at the Six Nations I’ve been involved in and we’ve won about 70% of the games. If compare to the 10-year period before, it was about 40%”
*Warren Gatland has a 53% career win percentage as head coach of Wales.
*His win percentage in the Six Nations stands at 71%.
Before Gatland Wales typically played open and attacking rugby which was entertaining to watch but never gathered much success on the field, under Gatland this changed. “Warren environment was very different. He challenged us physically, he challenged us mentally. He came in and basically tore up the play book if you like” recalls former Wales captain Ryan Jones. Gatland introduced a more pragmatic and disciplined style of play with a great emphasis placed on physicality. “It was a game that was going to built of discipline, set piece – a solid foundation” said Jones.
“Playing attractively or winning? I would take winning every day of the week” said Gatland.
Jones describes Gatland’s process as “A very methodical, battle hardened approach” and this worked in making the Welsh a much tougher opponent to break. Wales have reaped the rewards from having a world-class defence coach in Shaun Edwards, his blitz defence demanded aggression from the players and assured Wales would never get pushed around on the field. This approach has turned Wales into one of the strongest defensive teams in world rugby.
*In the 2008 Six Nations Wales only conceded 2 tries in 5 matches on their way to the Grand Slam.
*In 2013-14 Wales went more than 400 minutes in the Six Nations without conceding a try which is a tournament record.
In his first 5 years at the helm Wales won 2 Six Nations titles including 2 Grand Slams and reached the semi-final at the 2011 world cup. Gatland has overseen a golden generation of players also with Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau, George North, Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies, Dan Bigger and Jamie Roberts all making their debuts under Gatland.
“I am forever grateful to Gats for giving the opportunity to play for Wales” said Jamie Roberts. “It has given me an unbelievable career in test and club rugby which I couldn’t have dreamed of and I am grateful for that” added Roberts.
“For me the disappointment is we haven’t done as well against the Southern Hemisphere teams as we should have” said Gatland. Wales have played Australia, South Africa and New Zealand 38 times winning only 4 matches and losing 34, this equates to a win percentage of 10.6%. “There were a lot of games we put ourselves in positions where we were capable of winning, we were in front and given up leads, there should have been more victories over the Southern Hemisphere” Gatland said. One example that springs to mind is this –
“We’ve got a generation now who expect Wales to be competitive, they expect Wales to compete against the best teams in the world” Said Gatland. This expectation has led to lot of unfair criticism of Gatland. “I don’t think so. He’s had to – not explain himself – but prove himself, despite helping transform Wales” said current Welsh Captain Ken Owens “We have been right up in the mix and things haven’t gone right, but we have always been there or thereabouts and we are a very tough team to break down” added Owens.
Since 2013 onwards Wales have gone through a period of stagnation an inevitable issue for any successful team. The Welsh team have gone through a dry period in the Six Nations finishing 2nd in 2016 & 2018 and 3rd in 2014 & 2015. The 2015 World Cup saw Wales fall short losing to South Africa in the quarter-finals.
Gatland has been forced to evolve Wales’s style of play and so far this has paid dividends. The Welsh team resorted back to attacking rugby introducing players such as Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies and Hadleigh Parkes to accommodate this new style. Gatland hasn’t changed his approach completely he had just freshened up the way Welsh rugby is played. Wales have beaten Italy, France and Argentina twice to reach 3rd in the IRB World Rankings.
Gatland’s tenure has provided Welsh fans with a lot of memorable highlights and victories that will be cherished. His first match in charge against England will be remembered as one of his best. “There’s no doubt that was the start of everything and to win that game first up and create that confidence and self-belief was important”
Next year Warren Gatland will enter 12th year as head coach of Wales and It will be his last. I hope after Gatland leaves his post he be given the credit he deserves. The Kiwi is Wales’s longest-serving head coach and one our most successful. He has set down a marker which will be difficult to match and in 2018 he reached his 100th test match in charge of Wales. “Have I been in the job for too long? possibly” admitted Gatland, will Warren Gatland be missed? Definitely.
I would like to credit BBC Sport, ESPN and Wales Online for helping provide quotes and valuable information which aided me in producing this blog. The relevant articles have been linked below.
I would also like to credit the Six Nations YouTube channel and rugsta15 with the videos used in this blog. Their channels have been linked below.