'It would break my heart if Wales went back into the doldrums'
WORLD CUP REACTION: Warren Gatland bowed out as Wales coach with a 17-40 loss to his native New Zealand in the World Cup third-place play-off, expressing his hope that the team he coached for 12 years would not return to the “doldrums”.
“I really hope… that the new coaches coming in continue to build on that because what we’ve done, what we’ve achieved, it would break my heart if Wales went back into the doldrums,” said Gatland.
“I just want them to continue. There’s an opportunity for the new group to come in and build on what we’ve created and to improve on it.”
Gatland took over the Wales job after their disastrous pool exit from the 2007 World Cup.
He could hardly have had a better start, leading Wales to the 2008 Six Nations championship title, the first of four Gatland would claim as well as also leading the Welsh to the semifinals of the 2011 World Cup.
Those performances, the Kiwi said, had “earned respect and put respect back into Wales as an international team”.
Gatland, who will join Super Rugby franchise the Chiefs for a year before coaching the British and Irish Lions, said the clue was “not to be too greedy on winning Six Nations every year”.
The goal was to perform well and win some Six Nations titles but also “make sure we’re as competitive as we can possibly can be against other top nations”.
“We feel we have done that and I really want Wales to continue to build on that.”
Fellow New Zealander Wayne Pivac will take over from Gatland as head coach, with Stephen Jones – rushed out to replace Rob Howley in Japan – on board as one of his assistants.
“I want to see these boys be as successful as they possibly can,” Gatland said of Wales, praising the players for an “exemplary attitude”.
“If you ask them to run through a brick wall, the next question is ‘what do you want me to do when I get to the other side?’.
“For such a small playing nation, we really have to push ourselves hard because we don’t have the same number of players and depth of players. So you have just to wring the sponge as dry as you possibly can, because that’s the way we’ve performed and got results in the past.”
Turning to the match in Tokyo, in which New Zealand outscored the Welsh by six tries to two, Gatland said he had no complaint over the result.
“In fairness to the All Blacks, I thought they played exceptionally well, they were outstanding in attack,” he said.
A five-day turnaround from the brutal 16-19 loss to the Springboks in the semifinal on Sunday was a telling factor, Gatland added.
“It was obvious to me just watching that first-half that… some players definitely struggled with the game being so quick in terms of the turnaround.”
Gatland hailed the World Cup in Japan as “absolutely outstanding”.
“It’s essential that World Rugby look to continue to grow the game as much as they possibly can and by exposing a lot more people to the game in Asia, and in Japan in particular. Hopefully in the future you’ll see more kids start to play the game and come to love the game.”
Gatland said a future World Cup in other non-traditional regions, notably the United States, would be “successful”.
“That would create a lot of traction in the game and building the game and getting more people involved in this fantastic game of rugby.”
Asked for one piece of advice to give the incoming Pivac, Gatland was in no doubt – put family first in a job he said was “not normal” given time commitments on weekends and public holidays.
“If things are right at home for the players… I know I get a better product on the rugby pitch. We haven’t talked it, we’ve lived it.”