The highs and lows of Warren Gatland as Wales coach

Warren Gatland has had an eventful time as Wales coach in the dozen years he has been in charge.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the highs and lows of the New Zealander’s reign, which will come to an end after the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

The Highs

Twickenham triumph

Few – if any – gave Gatland the chance of a first-up win away to England in the opening week of the 2008 Six Nations Championship, coming just months after the wreckage of Wales’ World Cup campaign which had seen them lose to Fiji and fail to make the knockout stage. Even less so when Wales trailed 19-6 with nearly an hour played. But Wales stormed back to win 26-19 for a first Twickenham triumph since 1988 – and would go on to claim Grand Slam glory.

Southern comfort

Australia v Wales – Pool D – 2019 Rugby World Cup – Tokyo Stadium
Hadleigh Parkes scores as Wales beat Australia at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan (Adam Davy/PA)

Wales had traditionally suffered against rugby’s Southern Hemisphere super-powers. As well as failing to beat New Zealand, Australia and South Africa had a hold over Wales at home and abroad. But Gatland ended all that. Australia’s 13-game winning streak came to an end when Wales ground a 9-6 win over the Wallabies in November 2018. An even bigger win came in the 2019 World Cup pool stages. Wales have also won five of their last six games against South Africa, so the Springboks will hold no fear in Sunday’s World Cup semi-final showdown.

Record-breakers

Wales v Ireland – Guinness Six Nations – Principality Stadium
Wales’ third Grand Slam success under Warren Gatland in 2019 extended their winning streak to a record 14 games (David Davies/PA)

Gatland was in bullish mood at the start of the 2019 Six Nations, predicting Wales would land the title if they started by beating France in Paris. They duly did so, recovering from 16-0 down to win 24-19, and subsequent home wins over England and Ireland and away to Italy and Scotland saw Gatland claim his third Grand Slam. In doing so, Wales stretched their winning run to 14 – breaking their previous record of 11 set in 1910 – and held the number one position in the world rankings for the first time in August 2019.

The Lows

Irish revenge

Rugby Union – RBS Six Nations Championship 2009 – Wales v Ireland – Millennium Stadium
Ireland won the 2009 Grand Slam in Gatland’s Cardiff backyard (David Jones/PA)

Gatland, never one to shirk from playing mind games, well and truly stirred the pot before the Six Nations Championship decider against Ireland in 2009. Wales were chasing the Triple Crown, Ireland the Grand Slam. Both had designs on the title. Gatland ramped up the pre-match war of words by suggesting “of all the teams in the Six Nations, the Welsh players dislike the Irish the most”. Gatland, a former Ireland coach, was widely criticised for those comments and Ireland had the last laugh as a 17-15 Cardiff win gave them their first Grand Slam in 61 years.

World Cup pain

Rugby Union – Rugby World Cup 2011 – Semi Final – Wales v France – Eden Park
Skipper Sam Warburton was sent off as Wales lost the 2011 World Cup semi-final to France (David Davies/PA)

Gatland oversaw Wales’ best performance at the 2011 World Cup since their third-placed finish at the inaugural 1987 event. But the semi-final against France produced one of the lows of his reign as it was the World Cup ‘that got away’. A controversial early red card for skipper Sam Warburton left Wales with 14 men for nearly an hour. Even then Wales fell just short in the Auckland rain, losing 9-8 as Leigh Halfpenny’s long-range penalty at the death fell agonisingly just short.

Blackwash

Wales v New Zealand – Autumn International – Principality Stadium
New Zealand continued to dominate fixtures with Wales in the Gatand era (David Davies/PA)

Losing to New Zealand was a familiar theme in Wales long before Gatland arrived from the Land of the Long White Cloud. You have to go all the way back to December 1953 to find a Wales win in the fixture. But Gatland has been unable to lay a glove on the All Blacks, with Wales losing 11 times to the world champions during his tenure. 34-14 has been the average All Blacks’ winning margin of victory. But what price all those losses being erased by one victory against New Zealand in a World Cup final on November 2?

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