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Gatland’s back – and looking positively towards 2023

Warren Gatland

Gatland’s back – and looking positively towards 2023

Warren Gatland is back in Wales and already planning for the Six Nations and Rugby World Cup having taken over as the Wales head coach.  

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There are 52 days to go to the first game in the Six Nations championship against Ireland at Principality Stadium on Saturday, 4 February. Gatland’s last game in charge of the Welsh team in the tournament was in March, 2019 when Wales beat the Irish too complete the third Grand Slam of his first tenure. 

This time, Ireland will arrive as the undisputed world ranked No 1 team. It promises to be another great sporting occasion in the Welsh capital and Gatland can’t wait to put his team to the ultimate test. 

“They’re the best team in the world and rightly so. Getting them first up at home is not the worst thing. It’s a tournament of momentum and if you win your first game you’ve got a good chance of doing well,” Gatland told the media.  

“Getting the Irish first up is probably the one game you want at home. There’s probably a bit more pressure on them and we’ll be pretty excited about getting ready for that game.” 

Gatland got off to a flying start when he first took over the Welsh coaching role in 2008, steering his new side to a first win in 20 years over England at Twickenham. That victory kick-started the first of the three Grand Slams secured under him. 

“International rugby is always a challenge and when I first spoke to Steve Phillips (WRU CEO) I was remembering the good times I had here being involved in games played in front of 75,000 people,” he added.  

“There’s a lot of pressure and expectation but that motivates you and gets you excited. I don’t think things have changed from when I first arrived at the end of 2007 – there’s always been expectation and history in Wales. 

“For us as a team, it’s all about working hard and preparing the best way that we possibly can to perform well and get results. Those are the expectations when you pull on that famous Welsh jersey. 

“It’s always a bit of a rollercoaster. You have some success and good times and you’re judged on two things, one of which is the Six Nations. 

“The Six Nations is incredibly important. My focus for this year will be on getting this team up and running for a good Six Nations campaign and then trying to do well in France in a World Cup year.  

“We’re in a tricky group to try to get out of next year, but that’s the challenge. If we can get out of that, we can go a long way in the tournament. It’s a busy 12 months, but I’m looking forward to it. 

“We’ve had Australia in our group before and had some tight contests. We’ve got Georgia as well and we can’t underestimate them. Fiji will also be tricky. The hardest thing with international rugby is the limited preparation time, but the beauty with the World Cup is the time you get together.  

“It’s like being with a club side or regional team. Your preparation is so much better in terms of the depth you can go into and the fine-tuning in the time you spend together – that’s what’s exciting with World Cups.  

“We’ve had success with that in the past and we’ve been unlucky not to make finals. Hopefully we can continue in that vein.” 

With those three Grand Slam successes (2008, 2012, 2019) already in the bank with Wales, as well as two World Cup semi-finals and steering Wales to a brief spell as the No 1 ranked team in the world in 2019, Gatland’s intimate knowledge of Welsh rugby, Welsh players and the tournaments in which they compete, made him the ideal candidate to take over from Wayne Pivac. 

“I wouldn’t be here doing the job unless I thought we were capable of winning things. Now it is all about creating an environment where there are no excuses,” he said.

“Roger Lewis and Martyn Phillips (previous CEOs) gave us the tools to create that environment, so when players came into camp we could get the best out of them. We prided ourselves in the past on being able to do that.  

“The challenge is doing that in the coming weeks so that players are excited about wearing that jersey and leaving everything out on the pitch in terms of getting performances and results.  

“What are the expectations at the moment? I’d probably need a discussion on that, but you’ve always got to believe and dream.

“I look at success as not always being about winning, but about over-achieving. With my upbringing in New Zealand as a Kiwi, we always believed if you work hard, you get results – that’s always been my attitude and you must never ever be afraid to take something on.” 

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Gatland’s back – and looking positively towards 2023