What an amazing journey it has been since 2008. As a child of the 80’s success was always few and far between however we were always blessed with gifted players. In the 90’s, to be a Welsh supporter hoping for success was a barren endeavour however when Warren Gatland took over the realm, he had to re-build confidence, belief and change the mindset of a nation. We had won a Grand Slam in 2005 and as if to prove the media in London correct suddenly crashed and burned in 2007 at the World Cup. The role of Welsh coach appeared to be a poisoned chalice.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. To win three grand slams, reach two semi-finals at the World cup, one quarter final and to have earned the respect of the rugby world deserves nothing but the greatest praise.
In Wales we have 3 million selectors, we have a belief that we can be creative, develop talent and nurture the odd success. But Warren Gatland turned that on its head. He was aiming for continuous success, a belief that the cup is half full rather than half empty and almost by becoming a sports psychologist, he took on the responsibility of a nation.
His success was built on the strength of the team ethos he engineered with his coaching team. It was built on an amazing defence under Shaun Edwards, forward durability guided by Robin McBride and backs let loose if sometimes conservatively under Rob Howley. Fitness, to believe that we could be better than any other team in terms of fitness levels. Analysis that was as good as any, organisation that led to smooth travel and transition from one place to the next and family. As a supporter, it was refreshing that a Coach of Wales recognised that the Welsh work better and harder when their family is part of rather than excluded from the process.
We wear our emotions on our sleeve, we are often full of doubt and lack the arrogance that our closest rivals have in abundance yet somehow Gatland turned all of these into positives. Providing self-belief, giving faith to his team and making us believe that we can rather than we might be able to achieve. The jump from might to can has been immense. We have eclipsed the summit of Snowdonia, reached K2 but Everest was just out of our reach.
For a short period we were ranked number 1 in the World. Wales were the best! If England win the World Cup, we have beaten them twice this year and if South Africa win, we lost by 3 points. We are one of the very best and we achieved this without half of our first 15. This proves beyond a doubt the brilliance of Warren Gatland as a coach.
As any Welsh fan, I haven’t always agreed with his selection. As an example the Ospreys team were the Welsh team in 2008, not easy to accept if you are a Cardiff Blues fan. Yet, his success hasn’t been built on the success of our regions. His success has been despite the regions. It is a reality that can make one nervous for the future. However it also proves the value of Warren Gatland in being able to get the very best out of his players.
Diolch isn’t sufficient. He should be held in the highest esteem and has allowed the whole of Wales to believe. It has been a great honour to watch Wales be one of the best in the world, to have the respect of our opposition and to show that winning is what really counts especially in the knockout stages of a competition. Let us not forget we are the Grand Slam champions and we lost to the Southern Hemisphere champions. This was the real deal and we lost by 3 points.
Whatever happens in the future, Warren Gatland will always be an honorary Welshman and his success will never be forgotten.