Warren Gatland’s highs and lows as Wales head coach

Warren Gatland is to return for a second spell as Wales head coach, three years after leaving the role, following the departure of fellow New Zealander Wayne Pivac.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the highs and lows of his first stint in charge from 2008-19.

The Highs

Twickenham triumph

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Few – if any – gave Gatland a chance of claiming a win away to England in the opening week of the 2008 Six Nations Championship, coming just months after a dreadful World Cup campaign which saw them lose to Fiji and fail to make the knockout stage.

It seemed even less likely when Wales trailed 19-6 with nearly an hour played but they stormed back to win 26-19 and claim a first Twickenham triumph since 1988 before going on to claim Grand Slam glory.

Southern comfort

Wales’ Hadleigh Parkes scores in a memorable win over Australia at the 2019 World Cup
Wales’ Hadleigh Parkes scores in a memorable win over Australia at the 2019 World Cup (Adam Davy/PA)

Wales had traditionally suffered against rugby’s southern hemisphere super-powers. As well as failing to beat New Zealand, Australia and South Africa had a hold over Wales at home and abroad.

But Gatland ended all that. Australia’s 13-game winning streak came to an end when Wales ground out a 9-6 win over the Wallabies in November 2018.

An even bigger win came in the 2019 World Cup pool stages. Successes over the Springboks became frequent until an agonising loss in the 2019 World Cup semi-finals.

Record-breakers

(From left to right) Wales head coach Warren Gatland, First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford and captain Alun Wyn Jones pose for a photo with the Six Nations trophy and Triple Crown trophy
Gatland (left), pictured at a ceremony with First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford and captain Alun Wyn Jones, guided his side to Six Nations glory in 2019 (Simon Galloway/PA)

Gatland was in bullish mood at the start of the 2019 Six Nations and predicted Wales would land the title if they started by beating France in Paris.

They duly did so, recovering from 16-0 down to win 24-19, and subsequent home wins over England and Ireland and away to Italy and Scotland saw Gatland claim his third Grand Slam.

In doing so, Wales stretched their winning run to 14 – breaking their previous record of 11 set in 1910 – and held the number one position in the world rankings for the first time in August 2019.

The Lows

Irish revenge

Ireland celebrate their 2009 Grand Slam
Ireland secured Grand Slam glory in Cardiff in 2009 (Tom Hevezi/PA)

Gatland, never one to shirk from playing mind games, well and truly stirred the pot before the Six Nations Championship decider against Ireland in 2009.

Wales were chasing the Triple Crown, Ireland the Grand Slam. Both had designs on the title.

Gatland ramped up the pre-match war of words by suggesting “of all the teams in the Six Nations, the Welsh players dislike the Irish the most”.

Gatland, a former Ireland coach, was widely criticised for those comments and Ireland had the last laugh as a 17-15 Cardiff win gave them their first Grand Slam in 61 years.

World Cup pain

Sam Warburton looks on after being sent off against France
Wales suffered an agonising loss to France after Sam Warburton was sent off in their 2011 World Cup semi-final (David Davies/PA)

Gatland oversaw a fine performance at the 2011 World Cup but their heartbreaking semi-final loss to France was one of the lows of his reign.

A controversial early red card for skipper Sam Warburton left Wales with 14 men for nearly an hour.

Even then Wales only just missed out in the Auckland rain, losing 9-8 as Leigh Halfpenny’s long-range penalty fell just short at the death.

All Blackwash

New Zealand’s Richie Mo’unga scores his side's sixth try during the 2019 Rugby World Cup bronze medal match
Gatland’s Wales were overrun by New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup bronze medal match (David Davies/PA)

Losing to New Zealand was a familiar theme in Wales long before Gatland arrived from the Land of the Long White Cloud, but he was simply unable to lay a glove on the All Blacks.

They lost 12 times to them during his tenure, the last being the bronze medal match at the 2019 World Cup.