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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 18 May 2021

Gatland - Master of the wind-up has yet to deliver against southern hemisphere

Can Gatty get Wales out of the toughest pool at the tournament?

Warren Gatland: former Ireland boss has enjoyed success with Wales.
Warren Gatland: former Ireland boss has enjoyed success with Wales.
Image: David Davies

WARREN GATLAND IS one of the most highly respected coaches in world rugby having led Wales to three Six Nations titles since taking over in 2007.

The 52-year-old Kiwi also oversaw the British and Irish Lions’ series victory in Australia in 2013, but has been criticised in Wales for his poor record against southern hemisphere teams.

Gatland is a no-nonsense coach who demands nothing but the best from his squad of players and backroom staff, a stickler for details and one not scared of making big calls.

The Hamilton-born Gatland is also master of the understated wind-up, happy to play mind games with opponents if there should be the faintest chance of an advantage.

The former hooker played 17 non-international matches for New Zealand, but never won an international cap. He racked up a record 140 appearances for Waikato before retiring in 1995.

Gatland was appointed as the 20th Welsh national coach in November 2007 and his start could not have been any better, leading Wales to the 2008 Six Nations championship title and the nation’s 10th Grand Slam just four months later.

He first touched down in Europe as player/coach for Galwegians, opting to stay on after the 1989 New Zealand tour. In 1996, he took over at the unfashionable Connacht and succeeded Brian Ashton as Ireland coach in 1998.

With a record of 18 wins, one draw and 19 losses, the Irish rugby union decided not to renew Gatland’s contract and gave the job to his assistant, Eddie O’Sullivan, in 2001.

- From Wasps to Wales -

From Ireland, Gatland moved to London, joining the coaching staff of Wasps and named director of rugby at the club in 2002.

Wasps flourished under his guidance, winning a hat-trick of Premiership titles in 2003, 2004 and 2005, the European Challenge Cup in 2003 and European Cup in 2004.

But Gatland left at the end of the 2004/05 season to return to New Zealand, where he was installed as coach to Waikato’s NPC side, which went on to win the Air New Zealand Cup title in 2006.

He joined the Waikato Chiefs Super 14 team in 2006 as technical advisor before taking the reigns as Wales head coach in December 2007.

Not only was there a Grand Slam in 2008, but a second in 2012 and a Six Nations title in 2013, with Gatland currently enjoying a 51.9 percent win ratio in 79 matches in charge.

Despite breaking two ankles, Gatland recovered sufficiently enough to then lead the Lions on their 2-1 victory over Australia, a first series win since 1997.

The outspoken coach came in for an enormous amount of flak for dropping Irish legend Brian O’Driscoll for the third decisive game, but was vindicated after the Lions came away with a record 41-16 win.

Cynics in Wales, however, will point at Gatland’s poor record against the south hemisphere trio of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa — just two victories in 25 matches since he took over.

And the team’s fourth place in the 2011 World Cup came after just one victory over a major power, Ireland in the quarter-finals. They lost three matches to France, South Africa and Australia with their other victories in New Zealand coming against Fiji, Samoa and Namibia.

But critics aside, there is no doubt Gatland has transformed the Welsh XV into viable contenders in Europe with a tight-knit group of players based around some individual excellence.

The question now is whether he can outfox England’s Stuart Lancaster and Australia’s Michael Cheika to get Wales into the quarter-finals from what promises to be the tightest of pools.

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