Gatland returns to rescue Wales from worst run in a decade
Published 21/11/2012 | 05:00
Warren Gatland has been back with Wales for barely 48 hours but believes he has already identified how a Grand Slam-winning team have lost in successive weeks at home to Argentina and Samoa – because they have failed to "get their heads right".
Wales have lost five matches in a row during Gatland's absence and a further defeat against the All Blacks, who they have not beaten for 59 years, would make it their worst run for a decade.
Gatland's last game in charge was the Grand Slam clincher against France in March; since then, a combination of the serious leg injury he suffered falling off a ladder and his duties as Lions coach have left Rob Howley presiding over a sequence of disappointments in his caretaker role.
But now, albeit for only two weeks, Gatland is back at the helm and hoping to pull off an extraordinary feat of troubleshooting.
"We know we are in good shape physically," says Gatland (right), who has guided Wales to two Grand Slams and a World Cup semi-final. "It's not a physical thing, players are not blowing at half-time. It's all about getting our heads right and facing the challenge, being excited by the challenge. We haven't quite been on the edge mentally, which is where you need to be to play Test rugby."
Gatland's original deal with the Lions when he signed up as their 2013 coach was that he would be released back to Wales only for next week's Australia game, but that was later fine-tuned to also take in the Test against New Zealand.
Despite the obvious dip in Welsh fortunes and suggestions from the likes of former captain Gareth Thomas that Gatland's place was with Wales full-time, he has no regrets making the Lions his priority this season.
"We all knew the situation and part of my role here is developing coaches within the system. They will have learnt a lot recently," he said. "I'm not going to be here for ever and I want to leave Welsh rugby stronger than when I joined.
"Yes we are disappointed but it's not the first time Wales have lost to Samoa or Argentina. We don't have a huge amount of depth and when we get injuries we come under pressure.
"Probably the hardest thing is the expectation this team has created because they have performed so well in the last 18 months. That's what we haven't handled as well as we should have."
Gatland can do the touchy-feely stuff well enough but when the situation demands it there is nobody better at barking out commands and telling off players. And the dire situation this week definitely demands that. (© Daily Telegraph, London)