Regardless of the result on Friday against New Zealand, Warren Gatland will leave a lasting legacy as the Wales head coach. Robert Rees looks back over his stellar career and the impact he made on Welsh rugby.
Lasting legacy felt across Wales
When Warren Gatland became the Welsh coach in 2007 Wales were a side that were licking their wounds following a World Cup exit at the hands of Fiji.
Wales were a nation that were often plucky but not consistent enough to be considered one of World Rugby’s top nations. There were more bad days than good ones and too many embarrassing losses on top of that.
Gatland’s 12-year reign as head coach has boosted Wales beyond that plucky underdog tag and made them genuine silverware contenders each and every tournament they enter.
In less than six months Gatland had won his first Six Nations Championship with Wales.
Just the start of a very powerful journey for the Kiwi.
Wales stopped being a laughing stock under Gatland
In the 1990s Wales were truly at their lowest as they battled the transition to professional rugby. This didn’t really change a great deal heading into the new millennium.
2003 yielded a Six Nations wooden spoon and the embarrassing exit from the 2007 World Cup went to show how little Wales had learned about being the best.
Gatland changed all of that. He gave them a game plan that made them tough to beat and reignited the passion of the Welsh people into the performances of their countrymen. Wales would go on to reach two RWC semi-finals under Gatland, only once had they done this before.
Four Six Nations’ titles, three of them Grand Slams. Wales rose top number one in the world prior to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, a feat they had never achieved before.
He brought success to Wales that was not seen before, at least not on such a consistent level. He made them a mainstream team and that is proof of a legacy working its magic.
Gatland leaves Wales having created a top-quality side, a passionate endurance for patience on the field and a never ending desire to give everything the players could give.
This desire was reciprocated by the fans who gave their voice in equal measure and that’s what has driven the success of this Welsh chariot.
Don’t remember what Gatland didn’t achieve, remember him for what he brought to Wales
Many fans complain about the lack of wide balls played under Gatland or that they weren’t brave enough to push the boat out – a main critique of their 2019 semi-final loss.
But, what Gatland did do was institutionalise a way of life for Welsh rugby players. He gave them discipline and taught them how it felt like to win. Their record 15-match winning streak saw them claim that number one ranking spot for two weeks.
Not a long time, but a significant time.
Wales were never fraught with long World Cup campaigns, yet he got them to two semi-finals and the quarter final. If injuries had been kinder, they could have gone further on two of those occasions.
It’s not easy to win the games Gatland did, just look at when England came to town looking for a Six Nations title and Wales blew them out the water 30-3. That’s the big games that Gatland mastered. He did the same in their 2019 Grand Slam campaign.
Wales used to struggle to rise to the occasion and would rarely beat the top three southern hemisphere sides.
Under Gatland the hoodoo surrounding both Australia and South Africa was removed. New Zealand could well be on that list come the weekend. Not many coaches can say they’ve had the better of those three nations.
Northern Hemisphere success unrivaled
His success as a coach in the Northern Hemisphere is unrivaled. Working with Ireland didn’t see him gain much in the trophy department, but it earned him enough respect to get the Wasps job.
Three consecutive Zurich Premiership titles with the London based side cemented him as one of the best coaches in World Rugby.
They also claimed a Challenge Cup and a Heineken Cup in his tenure.
His time with the British and Irish Lions saw him claim a series win over Australia and a series draw against the All Blacks. He’ll be taking over the 2021 series against South Africa in the record ‘three-peat.’
When Warren Gatland leads the Barbarians out in Cardiff to face off against Wales, he should be given the most rapturous applause you’ll ever witness from the Principality Stadium.
The man hasn’t earned the respect he deserves from a lot of fans, but Welsh fans owe him a lot in terms of how far he’s brought Wales.
“Main photo credit”