Warren Gatland says “there is little time for sentiment” as he prepares to take charge of Wales for a second time and mastermind next year’s World Cup campaign.
Gatland replaces his fellow New Zealander Wayne Pivac as head coach, with the Welsh Rugby Union confirming Pivac’s departure following their review of Wales’ Autumn Nations Series campaign that included a home defeat against Georgia.
WRU chief executive Steve Phillips said Gatland will take charge of Wales for the 2023 Guinness Six Nations Championship and World Cup.
But he added that there is “the ability to go through the next World Cup cycle up to and including Australia 2027”.
Gatland, 59, had been linked to the England head coach’s role, with a Rugby Football Union review currently assessing England’s autumn series amid uncertainty surrounding head coach Eddie Jones’ future.
A decision on whether Jones goes or stays is likely in the next 48 hours, but Gatland has committed to Wales.
Wales won just 13 of 34 Tests under Pivac’s direction after he succeeded Gatland following the 2019 World Cup.
And Gatland now makes an extraordinary return to the post he held between 2008 and 2019, during which time Wales won four Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, reached two World Cup semi-finals and briefly headed the world rankings.
Gatland will leave New Zealand-based side the Chiefs, where he was director of rugby, with immediate effect and return to Wales before Christmas.
“This is an opportunity to achieve something with a talented group of players in a country so passionate about rugby,” Gatland said, in a statement released by the WRU.
“Our immediate priority is obviously the 2023 Guinness Six Nations and next year’s Rugby World Cup.
“There is little time for sentiment. Professional sport is all about preparation, values and results.
“There will be new challenges, as there always is with a change in head coach, but for me the environment, the players and their families will always come first.
“We must prepare to the best of our ability in the time available. We will value and respect each other, we will work hard and, if we get this right together, performances and results will follow.”
While Wales beat the Springboks for the first time in South Africa this summer, they recorded only three wins from 12 Tests this year, which included defeats to Italy and Georgia.
Pivac’s job was on the line after the autumn series, with the WRU now turning to Gatland just nine months before Wales’ World Cup opener against Fiji in Bordeaux.
Phillips said: “This is one of the toughest calls to make in sport, but the review process has reached its conclusion and we have acted quickly and efficiently in the very best interests of our national team.
“Ultimately, we are in the results business, and we have agreed with Wayne that the current trajectory for Wales is not where we want it to be.
“We know him (Gatland) well and, most importantly, he knows us well too. He will undoubtedly be able to make an immediate impact, just as he did when he joined us for the first time in 2008.
“But it has also been important to both parties to ensure we get absolute maximum gain out of the return of such an experienced and highly-regarded individual.
“It is for this reason that we are particularly pleased to have been able to secure Warren’s services for the next few years with the ability to go to the 2027 Rugby World Cup.
“This appointment is no quick fix, nor sticking plaster. It is part of our long-term planning for the game in Wales.”
Pivac, meanwhile, added: “I am obviously extremely sad to stand down from the role.
“It was a speedy review process post-Autumn Nations Series, as time is of the essence with the Six Nations fast approaching.
“Unfortunately, the results or performances this year were not all as we hoped. As a group, we all take responsibility for that, but me in particular as head coach.
“We have played some really good rugby at times, but needed to do that more consistently. However, I know that there is a strong foundation for the squad to progress to great things in the future.”