Going 'Bok to the Future as Gatland's New Era Beckons

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), November 24, 2007 | Go to article overview

Going 'Bok to the Future as Gatland's New Era Beckons


Byline: By Andy Howell Western Mail

If the WRU's high-profile capture of Warren Gatland proves a roaring success, it could be years before we see a Welshman in charge of Wales again.

Should the New Zealander with a glowing track record deliver, people will soon forget who has drawn up the game-plan for today's clash with world champions South Africa.

It could even be a quiz question in years to come. "Name the last Welsh coach of Wales?"

Kevin Bowring? Dennis John? Lynn Howells? Mike Ruddock? Gareth Jenkins?

No, none of them? It's Nigel Davies.

Remember the name because Wales have had an exhaustive list of coaches since union went professional in August 1995.

On that list are Australians Alex Evans, in charge when Wales faced South Africa at Ellis Park in Johannesburg a month after the payment of players was given the green light by the International Rugby Board, and Scott Johnson.

So, too, New Zealanders Graham Henry and Steve Hansen, making the total a staggering 10 in 12 years.

South Africa's World Cup winning mastermind Jake White this week talked about the revolving door policy operated by the WRU in recent years - and how it had put him off filling the Wales position when he steps down as Springboks coach at the end of the year.

Of course, it's not only in Wales where the scorched earth policy is operating. You've only got to look over the border and at the Football Association for more upheaval.

England have had six managers, caretakers included, in eight years: Glenn Hoddle, Howard Wilkinson, Kevin Keegan, Peter Taylor, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren.

The last of that line, McClaren, got the chop this week after England crashed out of the European Championship with a sorry 3-2 home defeat to Croatia.

The incompetence of the English defence and the anonymous midfield were passed over as McClaren was quickly ushered to the exit door.

But you cannot take issue, despite the blame culture so prevalent in Britain, which, in sport, sees the coach invariably carry the can, with the demise of McClaren, or Gareth Jenkins as Wales rugby coach for that matter.

Neither went on the back of one result - their failure came over a sustained period with fans in both countries adamant their teams had grossly under-achieved.

That's why the WRU prised Gatland, a Heineken Cup winner and triple English Premiership champion with London Wasps, away from Waikato in New Zealand on a four-year deal worth more than pounds 1m.

The Kiwi starts work next Saturday and, though he won't be tarred by any defeat at the Millennium Stadium today, the WRU have disputed suggestions that he had a part in Davies' exciting team selection.

But the transition period while everybody waits for the new broom to sweep clean may work in different ways against the Springboks.

It could either inspire the Welsh squad to produce a performance which will impress Gatland, who will be watching from his home Down Under, and put them into his Six Nations reckoning or it might end up as a damp squib.

The danger is the players are still suffering a hangover from Wales' World Cup flop against Fiji. …

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