Wales boss Warren Gatland ‘loves’ pressure of Six Nations struggle

Wales head coach Warren Gatland looks on during their Six Nations rugby union match gainst France at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Sunday

Wales head coach Warren Gatland looks on during their Six Nations rugby union match gainst France at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Sunday. Photo: Simon King/ProSportsImages/DPPI via AFP

Published Mar 14, 2024


Warren Gatland says he wants his Wales side to embrace the pressure as they seek to avoid finishing rock bottom of the Six Nations when they face Italy on Saturday.

Gatland's first spell as Wales coach from 2007 to 2019 yielded four Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, and two World Cup semi-final appearances.

He returned for a second stint after replacing Wayne Pivac, his fellow New Zealander, ahead of last season's Six Nations, with Wales finishing fifth in the table.

But if Wales fail to beat Italy in Cardiff, they will end the tournament at the foot of the table for the first time since 2003, when another New Zealander, Steve Hansen, was at the helm.

And defeat at the hands of the Azzurri would mean Wales had lost all five of their matches in a single Six Nations — a first since that woeful campaign of 21 years ago.

But Gatland said he was relishing the pressure.

"I love it," he said on Thursday. "You find out about people in weeks like this when you are under a bit of pressure, how you respond to that pressure, who is going to put their hand up, who is going to accept the responsibility.

"And that is what international sport and professional sport is all about, whether you are playing for Grand Slams or you are at the other end of the table and fighting for survival and fighting to make sure we get a win on the weekend."

Former Ireland coach Gatland was already looking at a rebuild following last year's World Cup, given the Test retirements of full-back Leigh Halfpenny and fly-half Dan Biggar.

'Desperate for a win'

Another Wales cap centurion, George North, will bow out of the Test arena after the Italy match.

But Gatland has also had to deal with wing Louis Rees-Zammit quitting rugby union to try his hand at American football and Liam Williams heading to Japan, while injuries to Taulupe Faletau, Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake have hampered Wales' chances as well.

"You can't coach experience," said Gatland. "Players learn from being out in the middle. They make mistakes, but it is how you rectify those mistakes for them to be better the next time.

"Both winning and losing become habits, and we've got to break that. We are desperate for a win on Saturday."

Wales will hope to see the 31-year-old North — who will next season play for French side Provence, currently in the second tier — out in style.

North's tally of 47 tries for Wales has been bettered only by Shane Williams and he is his country's third most-capped international behind Alun Wyn Jones and Gethin Jenkins.

"He (North) was probably thinking to himself when was the right time (to retire) from a physical point of view," said Gatland.

"We would have loved for him to still be involved, but the conversation with him was that he didn't want to continue playing for the next couple of years and then potentially leave us in a bit of a hole 12 months out from a World Cup.

"I completely understood his decision with him going to France and taking the family with him."


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