Friday 15 December 2017

No-one else could have achieved this - Gatland

Warren Gatland had the last laugh after being subjected to mush personal criticism during the tour. Photo: Getty Images
Warren Gatland had the last laugh after being subjected to mush personal criticism during the tour. Photo: Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The clown nose was gone and the official garb swapped for civvies, but when Warren Gatland reported to the team hotel to fulfil his final media engagement of the tour yesterday he was in defiant mood.

A good night's sleep - he got to bed at 4am on Saturday night - had allowed him to park the final result and reflect on the achievement of overcoming a relentless schedule and the bookies' odds to earn parity with the best team in the world.

His future beyond 2019 remains a source of speculation, but his faith in his own abilities remains unbowed.

He has endured a difficult six weeks and said there were times when the media scrutiny and lack of preparation time caused him to confide in his wife Trudi that he was "hating" the experience.

At the end of it all, though, he can look back on the six-week body of work with pride.

"You've got to reflect on that and say it's a pretty good achievement, playing the best team in the world in their own backyard and drawing the series," he said.

"Particularly after losing the first Test.

Hating

"My wife asked me about three weeks into the tour, 'how are you enjoying the tour?' and I said 'I'm hating it'.

"I've never been one to publicly show that something's affecting you… I don't mind people criticising me tactically or the way that we play… but I thought some of the stuff was quite personal and as a Kiwi, I found that quite challenging.

"I thought it (the job) was a hiding to nothing as well.

"It is one of those positions that you are offered and it's very difficult to walk away from. You know what it's like and you think you have the ability to do whatever it takes to make it successful.

"Having the chance come to New Zealand… trying to win down here is the ultimate challenge.

"Once I was offered the job, you can't walk away from that sort of challenge, particularly someone like myself, when you are competitive.

"I think if anyone else had been doing it, we might not have drawn the series."

He wasn't suggesting that another coach might have won it either: this was a valedictory moment for a much-maligned coach whose record of achievement can't convince some people to give him credit.

His performance here has set tongues wagging about what he might do next.

Steve Hansen's expected departure in 2019 has set in train a race for the next All Black coach, while the prospect of completing the hat-trick of series by leading the Lions to South Africa in four years' time is also an appealing prospect.

Hansen was asked about his successor yesterday and while he didn't name him directly, it seems pretty clear that he favours assistant coach Ian Foster.

"There is a massive responsibility that comes with being the All Blacks coach," he said. "The union in 2007, after we dropped out of the World Cup in the quarter-final, made the decision to keep (former head coach) Graham (Henry), Wayne (Smith) and myself.

"That continuity and the fact that we had to take responsibility for that failure made a massive difference to what happened after that.

"Continuity is a good thing, otherwise you end up chucking everything out, and the formula we have got now isn't perfect but it is pretty good. It's reasonably successful.

"Having people come in cold make its harder. It doesn't mean it is not right but I have got complete faith in whoever sits on the panel at the time, that they will make the right decision for New Zealand rugby. They have been good at it in the past and continue to be very good at it.

"We are very fortunate we have got a lot of good coaches throughout the world.

"In Northern Hemisphere rugby, you take Eddie (Jones) out - who is also a Southern Hemisphere coach - we have got Vern (Cotter) who has just finished with Scotland, Joe (Schmidt) and Warren doing what they are doing.

"So out of the four home nations we have got three New Zealanders and an Australian. It is not a coincidence that those teams have gone up the rankings.

"What that means is that Northern Hemisphere people will be looking for more Southern Hemisphere coaches. It's just means we need to develop more down here, we have got plenty of good candidates. You have got trust that they pick the right one."

Gatland himself is not ruling anything out beyond 2019.

"I'm definitely, definitely finishing up after the World Cup with Wales, no matter what," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to do post-2019, there's no plans. I'm not worried about the future. I know there will be something out there for me.

Time-frames

"There's a possibility that if that (Lions) opportunity came again it would be something you would consider (in 2021). The South African thing is a little bit easier in terms of the time-frames and the travel and getting there.

"We'd hope also that we don't let the next four years go before we start planning and putting things in place. Discussions need to take place about just having some reasonable preparation time.

"Not being stupid, I'm not asking for a month. A week in the UK or Ireland beforehand then arrive in South Africa for a week before the first game is reasonable.

"Maybe looking at not having a mid-week game before the first Test and having an opportunity to prepare properly is sensible and reasonable. Hopefully the powers in the game - the four home unions, the clubs - can work together to preserve what is something special."

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