CARDIFF – “Let’s call out his name – Warren G, Warren G; Warren G, the Welshman – Warren G, Warren G!”
So sing Boycezone, the charity-raising tribute band to legendary Welsh troubadour and rugby fanatic Max Boyce, in the streets of Cardiff before internationals, echoing the sentiments of a grateful, and at times fickle, Welsh public.
New Zealander Warren Gatland has well and truly been adopted as one of Wales’ own.
He 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 55-year-old Kiwi also oversaw the British and Irish Lions’ series victory in Australia in 2013 and the drawn series against New Zealand in 2017 but has come in for criticism 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.
WAL 25-7 IRE— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) March 16, 2019
Wales have done it! Capturing the Triple Crown and the Grand Slam in Cardiff with their 14th win on the bounce.
Diweddglo chwedlonol i'r ymgyrch Chwe Gwlad, wedi ei sefydlu ar waith caled a chyfeillgarwch.
🏴 #HWFN #ForTheJersey pic.twitter.com/nA5XgpNLEz
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.
He first touched down in Europe as player/coach for Irish side Galwegians, opting to stay on after the 1989 New Zealand tour.
In 1996, he took over at unfashionable Irish province 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 Ireland, Gatland moved to London, joining the coaching staff of Wasps and was 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, a Six Nations title in 2013, and a third championships clean sweep this season, with Gatland currently enjoying a record of 61 wins from 110 matches in charge.
Cynics in Wales, however, will point at Gatland’s poor record against the south hemisphere trio of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, although that has slowly changed.
While Wales have never beaten the All Blacks in his reign, they have notched up four victories over the Springboks and two over the Wallabies.
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. The 2015 World Cup saw Wales dramatically beat hosts England in pool play, but they went down to South Africa in the quarter-finals.
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.
Sam Warburton, whom Gatland named as Wales captain at the age of 22 and also chose as skipper for the two Lions series he oversaw, believes the New Zealander has “changed the perception of the Welsh public from being underdogs, which they were used to in the 1990s and 2000s”.
“It is normal now to expect to win a Six Nations campaign year in, year out. He has changed the psychology of the Welsh team and public,” said Warburton, who skippered the 2012 winning side.
“That underdog status has pretty much gone now. You do not want to be the underdog.
“You work hard to be the top dog, and he has got the boys and the public in that state of mind. They expect so much of the Welsh team, and that is down to Warren.”AFP