Wednesday 26 June 2019

Gatland is best coach of all time - Williams

Ex-Ireland boss’ record unmatched as he prepares for 100th Wales game

Shane Williams thinks Warren Gatland really believes he can win the World Cup with Wales. Below: Williams with Gatland before the 2011 semi-final. Photo: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Shane Williams thinks Warren Gatland really believes he can win the World Cup with Wales. Below: Williams with Gatland before the 2011 semi-final. Photo: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
David Kelly

David Kelly

Two days after Shane Williams had scored his ninth World Cup try, and his 57th in all Tests, against Ireland at the Westpac, the 34-year-old knocked on Warren Gatland's Wellington hotel room door.

"I told him that when we won the World Cup, that was it for me," he recalls. "A bit tongue in cheek, perhaps, but we only had to win two more matches..."

Gatland was thinking the same thing. Two more wins and then home.

But only one man kept their promise.

Wales lost the semi-final, controversially, to France.

Williams, who had begun his World Cup experience as third-choice scrum-half in 2003, would score his 58th international try, a stunning effort in the bronze-medal match against Australia in his 87th and last appearance.

Warren Gatland and Shane Williams. Photo: Getty
Warren Gatland and Shane Williams. Photo: Getty


Gatland, though, signed on again for Wales and, with another World Cup under his belt, will next year lead the country in a third tournament, along the way smashing the world record of 142 Tests as a head coach for Ireland, Wales and the Lions.

This weekend, against the country where it all started, Gatland will mark his 100th Test as Wales coach, a remarkable achievement in a profession where longevity has become an increasingly rare commodity.

Williams harbours no doubts that the former Ireland coach approaches the milestone untouched in the professional era, standing astride all his contemporaries as the pre-eminent head coach in the game.

"As far as I'm concerned I think so but I am biased," says the former Welsh wizard, when asked if Gatland deserves to be acclaimed as the best head coach of the professional age.

"When he came in around 2007 and 2008, I personally enjoyed his coaching methods. He looked at the players he had and worked the game around that.

"He always used to say to me, 'Shane, I've no idea what you do out there on the wing but whatever it is, keep doing it. I'll mould things around you'.

"You only have to look at what he's done - Grand Slams, Championships, and two successful Lions tours. He must know what he is doing. Of course, Wales have lost games against teams that they shouldn't have and there have been a few bad patches.

"What he has got used to is that is Welsh rugby for you. It's a roller-coaster of a ride. I know that with games I've won and lost, not to mention games that Welsh rugby have won and lost.

"That's what Warren has had to get used to and learn. At the start, he must have wondered what he had signed up for. One minute you're winning Grand Slams, the next you're losing games you should be winning."

Gatland may not have won a World Cup - unlike Steve Hansen or Graham Henry - but then again his compatriots also coached Wales and never enjoyed the remarkable success he has with the national side; three Championship titles, including two Grand Slams.


Hansen and Henry won multiple Tri Nations/Rugby Championship titles, the latter also lifted a clutch of Super Rugby crowns, but the pair's title-winning touch eluded them when they were coaching in the northern hemisphere.

Michael Cheika is the only man to win a Super Rugby title and a European Cup but success with Australia has evaded him.

Gatland also won a European club title with Wasps and achieved provincial success with the Chiefs in New Zealand.

Some might argue that Joe Schmidt's credentials might challenge Gatland but he merely assisted a French league title win and has no top-flight achievements to speak of in his home country, notwithstanding his fine record of two Six Nations titles and two European title wins (both back-to-back).

Eddie Jones is another challenger; he has won a Super Rugby title and a Tri Nations and now successive Six Nations titles, as well as being involved with the 2007 World Cup winners. A 2021 Lions tour may elevate him further.

For now though, Gatland stands apart.

"I think a few of us would have retired if we'd have won the World Cup," adds Williams, who is not surprised that Gatland has remained on some seven years later.

"I'm not amazed, he's driven, he's obviously enjoyed his time in Wales, he's been successful but also if he'd have won the World Cup he probably would have gone back, who knows?

"But because he didn't win that World Cup, and I think that's something he really believes Wales can do, it's no surprise to me that he's going to try and do it in Japan.

"He is very driven, obviously, he's had a good contract in Wales and that's another reason to stay, but he's enjoyed his time as well. He's been well received in Wales when we're doing well, same as anything in Wales really.

"He's had a great time hasn't he? He's probably been the most successful Welsh coach we've had. We're the most fickle nation ever. There were times they made me Prince of Wales after one game but beheaded me the next.

"When we won Grand Slams, everyone wanted to adopt him, then lose a few, we fall out of love with him and look for someone else to come in.

"He has become used to that but he has to do an awful lot to be fully adopted in Wales. The majority do love him, definitely respect him.

"But it takes an awful lot to be loved in Wales."

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