Wales boss Gatland described the first 40 minutes of Wales 27-26 defeat to Scotland in the opening round of the Six Nations as the worst of his 30-year coaching career. Then things only got worse.
A fourth Scottish try at the start of the second half made it 27-0 and Wales and Wainwright were heading for a record defeat.
Then came one of the greatest fightbacks in Six Nations history that left Gatland and his young side just two points short of victory and gave them something to cling to ahead of their Round 2 shoot-out with England.
“A game of two halves sums it up perfectly and with another five minutes we probably would have got the win,” said try scorer and man of the match Wainwright.
“It wasn’t the start we wanted but we showed what we can do when we start putting some stuff together.
“If we can replicate that second half performance and play like that for the full 80 it will be exciting. We have to make sure it doesn’t take a first half like that to get into it.
“It was encouraging how we kept fighting and put ourselves in with a chance to win. That’s going to give us momentum for next week.”
Finn Russell controlled the first half action superbly for the Scots to lay the groundwork for their first win in Cardiff in 22 years. Wing Duhan van der Merwe powered over for two tries and when they led 27-0 with 43 minutes on the clock everyone was reaching for the record books to check up on Wales’ worst defeats.
Then George Turner and Sione Tuipulotu picked up yellow cards and tries from Jim Botham, Rio Dyer, Wainwright and finally debutant Alex Mann brought Wales thundering back into a game they had no right to be in.
“The boys coming off the bench made a huge impact and changed momentum. Maybe first game nerves played a part, but we can’t afford those inaccuracies,” added Wainwright.
“Cam (Winnett) did exceptionally well on his first start, Alex (Mann) came on and lifted the energy. That’s what you need from people coming off the bench – they made a real impact.
“Scotland were perhaps panicking a bit and a bit more composure from us in the dying moments could have turned it. Next week we need to go with full energy and accuracy.
“I’ve got mixed emotions about the Man of the Match award because the team comes first. I wanted to win and we lost, so that’s the bitter disappointment.”