Gatland will go down as the greatest Wales coach of the modern era with three Six Nations Grand Slams and two Rugby World Cup semi-finals to his name. And he is massively proud of his achievements over the past 12 years.
“I would like to thank the Welsh public,” said Gatland.
“They have been challenging at times but they have made it worthwhile in terms of just how welcoming they have been to me in Wales. They have been so hospitable and it is really like a second home for me in Wales and I am going to miss being there.
“I think what Wales have given me is an opportunity and I’ve absolutely loved my time. We’ve been lucky enough to have had a lot of success.
“We’ve punched massively above our weight and success as a coach isn’t always about winning – I think it’s about overachieving as a team and I feel we’ve definitely done that. We’re a very small playing nation with a lot of history and the biggest memory I have is the smile we’ve put back on people’s faces to wear the red jersey again and to support the team.
“That makes a massive difference to the whole of Wales as they’re proud of the team and the players wear it with pride.”
Despite the disappointment of Wales’ narrow semi-final defeat to South Africa in Yokohama Gatland insists his players are excited at the prospect of facing the All Blacks. And he believes it is a chance for his players to go out and make history.
“When you put the disappointment behind you, you think about the chance to play the All Blacks and that gets you excited,” said Gatland.
“It’s the same for the group of players. We want to go out, perform well, and be positive about the way we play.
“I’ve always been conscious of what is being left behind and there are some young players that particularly for the future need an opportunity to play against the All Blacks in a big game at the World Cup. We felt it was important we didn’t just think about ourselves and think insular, it was looking at the bigger picture which is what is good for Welsh rugby.
“Some of that is about giving players an opportunity to perform on the big stage – the players we see for the future like Tomos Williams, Owen Watkin, Owen Lane and Hallam Amos. There is Adam Beard and Dillon Lewis too.
“It’s a big opportunity for them to go and stake a claim and hopefully Welsh rugby will benefit from the experience they get on Friday.”