Warren Gatland’s other victory
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Wales’ worthy defeat of Ireland on Saturday not only decided who would proceed to the Rugby World Cup semi-final, it also gave a firm indication that a Kiwi will coach the British and Irish Lions against the Wallabies for a second consecutive series.
The current All Black coach Graham Henry took charge in 2001.
The Lions board wish to make an appointment in and around December, leaving none of the other candidates with a chance to make an impression in the 2012 Six Nations championship.
Gatland is a polarising character, especially with some members of the Irish media, but his record is undeniable. He has made a difference in every significant position he has taken.
His startling success at Connacht, where he achieved the near-impossible with next to no resources led to his appointment as Irish coach in 1998.
Ireland had played like a unorganised rabble for the majority of the preceding decade. Gatland’s simpler approach and an insistence on picking players playing domestically, led to improved performances.
Defeat to Argentina at Lens in the 1999 World Cup and a massacre at Twickenham in 2000, led to calls for his head.
Subsequent victories against Scotland at Murrayfield and France in Paris, a first Irish victory there since 1972, kept the wolves at bay.
The following season, Ireland narrowly missed out on a Grand Slam, when they were defeated by Scotland at Murrayfield, and gave the All Blacks the fright of their lives at Lansdowne Road.
He was subsequently fired by the IRFU and replaced by his assistant Eddie O’Sullivan. He had never been forgiven for the defeats at Lens and Twickenham nearly two years previously.
Gatland, despite what some journalists – more prone to hyperbole than reason – may say, was very good for Irish rugby and set the base for a decade of unparalleled success.
He next surfaced at Wasps where he won three successive Premierships and one Heineken Cup, and in 2008 won a Grand Slam in his first year in charge of Wales.
Gatland has made mistakes along the way and his gob has often let him down, but he has a track record of being innovative, a good selector, learning from mistakes, and coming back stronger than ever.
There will be many who will oppose the appointment, because he is a Kiwi and will cite the disharmonious reign of Graham Henry in Australia in 2001 as the reason.
It’s fairly obvious that Henry had pre-ordained the Test side for the 2001 series before the squad left Heathrow. This led to much unrest with people like Matt Dawson, Austin Healy, and Malcolm O’Kelly throwing their toys out of the pram in disappointment at being overlooked at times.
Many seem to forget that Henry’s side played fantastic rugby and was the last to bring a series to a decider, with the final match in Sydney’s Olympic Stadium being in the balance until the final seconds.
Others have pointed to Henry’s lack of cultural appreciation for what was involved, but this situation does not arise with Gatland as he has spent the majority of the last 20 years living in the Northern Hemisphere, and has already served an apprenticeship on the 2009 tour of South Africa under the doyen of Lion’s coaches, Ian McGeechan.
It’s possible that a ‘smash and grab’ by the All Blacks after the World Cup, may see Gatland heading back to New Zealand and the recent four-year extension signed with the Welsh Rugby Union contains a release clause for such an eventuality.
It also accounts for a five-month break from duties in the event of Gatland being appointed Wales coach.
Whatever happens, and wherever Warren winds up, will always be interesting, but it will also improve the chances of success for the parties involved.
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