'It's not rocket science': Gatland underlines his coaching credentials...again
SPOTLIGHT: Warren Gatland has again underlined his coaching credentials by leading Wales into a fourth successive World Cup quarterfinal, introducing a much-needed clarity to transform a misfiring team into contenders in a timeframe not thought possible.
It is hard to believe that in last season’s Six Nations, Wales only avoided the wooden spoon by beating Italy in Rome. That was preceded by morale-denting home losses to Australia and Georgia.
“As a group of players, we should be proud of what we’ve achieved,” Gatland said of reaching the knock-out phase in France, with one eye on a third-ever semifinal.
“A big part of that is when we’ve been together as a group, the preparation time and the hard work has helped us in preparation for World Cups.”
Gatland first took charge of Wales after the 2007 World Cup, when a defeat by Fiji meant they failed to advance out of the pool stages.
The New Zealander went on to oversee Wales’ most successful period of modern times before leaving in 2019, leading the team to three Six Nations Grand Slams and the last-four stage of both the 2011 and 2019 Rugby World Cups.
In that time Gatland also coached the British and Irish Lions on three tours, winning the series in Australia in 2013, drawing against New Zealand in 2017 and losing the series against South Africa in 2021.
There can be no doubting his coaching pedigree, and it was Gatland the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) turned to for a second spell after sacking his successor Wayne Pivac.
Gatland’s team finished fifth in last year’s Six Nations campaign, which was overshadowed by a series of off-field issues.
Allegations of sexism, racism and homophobia within the WRU are currently the subject of an independent review.
Wales players threatened strike action over contract issues earlier this year, while financial troubles continue to engulf the professional game.
Wales also slumped to 10th in World Rugby’s official rankings and talismanic figures such as Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric and Rhys Webb have all recently retired from the international game.
The story continues below…
🏴 Croeso nôl Kieran!
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏴 (@WelshRugbyUnion) October 11, 2023
Second bite of carrot
Gatland admitted he would not have signed up for a second bite of the carrot had he known how entrenched some of the problems were.
But he nonetheless insisted pre-World Cup that his team would do “something special” in France.
And true to form, the worm has turned and back has come Welsh success forged on a robust defence that opponents often struggled to crack.
Gatland, with Mike Forshaw employed as defence coach – a post once held by Shaun Edwards, now with France, has again enshrined a tough edge with a conservative, possession-based style of rugby critics dub “Warrenball”.
“It has been well documented there has been a bit of adversity over the last 12 months,” said assistant coach Jonathan Thomas.
“The Six Nations didn’t go as well as we would have hoped, but then there has been growth, which comes from working hard, being fit and having real clarity in what you want to achieve in your game.
“The balance is excellent in this squad between the senior players and young players.”
Centre Nick Tompkins, who has been one of the stars of a rejuvenated Welsh team, added that Gatland had brought “clarity, simplicity”.
“Give the boys a bit of confidence and continuity and it just shows what you can do. I think we missed a vision and bit of clarity about what was going on,” he said.
“Bring that back and it shows what you can do. It’s not rocket science but it’s not easy to do.”
Scrumhalf Gareth Davies said the squad “are all back to where we want to be because of this management”.
“We are fighting for each other, playing for each other and the environment is good.
“Warren has just got his way and it works for me and it obviously works for everyone else in the squad.”