Warren Gatland has acknowledged he is placing his legacy as a Welsh rugby legend at perilous risk after completing a sensational return to the hotseat, less than a year before the World Cup.
Telegraph Sport exclusively revealed on Monday that Gatland had been parachuted into the role he bestrode like no other Wales head coach before on a long-term deal, following the Sunday dismissal of Wayne Pivac. The latter's exit came in the wake of a dismal run of results in 2023, including home defeats to Italy and Georgia.
In a golden era between 2007 and 2019, Gatland took Wales to four Six Nations titles and three Grand Slams, as well as two World Cup semi-finals. In what has already been billed as an emotional “homecoming”, the 59-year-old will fly from New Zealand at the weekend to reassume the reins - and he is ready for his Godlike reputation in the Valleys to be put on the line.
“I am, but that’s the exciting part in all this isn’t it?” Gatland said in a Zoom press conference conducted from Hamilton where he has been director of rugby at Waikato Chiefs.
“If you fail, you're a flop and it doesn’t matter what happened before. The buzz of international rugby, being involved in the Six Nations, World Cup - they were the key factors to sway me to come back. Look, I'm under no illusions what the expectations are in the next 10 months.
“Yet the massive advantage I've got is that I know the set-up and know so many of the people involved. So I think I can hit the ground running and hopefully it will be pretty seamless."
The WRU confirmed that the Kiwi's contract has "the ability to go through the next World Cup cycle up to and including Australia 2027" and despite the supposed economic paucity in Welsh rugby he clearly has resource at his disposal.
Gatland revealed he will review the current assistant coaches - Stephen Jones, Jonathan Humphreys, Gethin Jenkins and Neil Jenkins - after reacclimating himself at the Vale of Glamorgan basecamp and take soundings from players and officials. "I need to get the lay of the land on how things are there within the set-up and then I'll make the appropriate decisions,” he said.
Gatland would not be drawn on if Rob Howley - his former attack guru who was controversially jettisoned in Gatland’s final months on the back of a betting scandal - would be brought back, but he seems to have carte blanche to fire and hire who he sees fit. The WRU has gone all in.
“In Warren, we are bringing in one of the very best coaches in the international game”, said WRU chief executive, Steve Phillips.
England role was never a consideration
The move ends any speculation of Gatland being appointed by England, although Telegraph Sport understands the Twickenham role was never a realistic consideration given that any potential RFU offer would likely only have been on an interim basis until the global featurepiece in France next autumn.
“I am only here really to speak about Wales,” Gatland said before adding with a smirk. “But what I can say is, don't believe everything you read in newspapers."
Regardless of any competition for his signature, Gatland plainly played his hand cannily and pertinently only committed his services after the stipulation of a full root-and-branch review of professional Welsh rugby.
And it was no coincidence that the announcement came on the same day as the four professional regions released a statement saying that a “verbal agreement” had finally been agreed with the union after lengthy financial negotiations had left the domestic game in limbo.
“That’s one less thing to worry about,” he said. “In particular, the players needed certainty. Hopefully that’s alleviated the pressure for them and their families.”
Gatland was impressed with parts of Wales autumn series that, as well as a shellacking by New Zealand and the Georgia humiliation, also featured victory over Argentina and the sprint into a 21-lead with 20 minutes to go against Australia, before the meltdown.
“This is an opportunity to achieve something with a talented group of players in a country so passionate about rugby,” Gatland said. “Our immediate priority is obviously the Six Nations and next year’s Rugby World Cup. There is little time for sentiment; professional sport is all about preparation, values and results."