With the Chiefs slumping to a seventh consecutive defeat, not only is Warren Gatland’s Super Rugby honeymoon well and truly over, it starting to feels more like a ‘seven game itch’ for the British and Irish Lions coach. The 56-year-old is copping flak from all quarters of the rugby playing globe.
The weekend’s defeat was a team-record seventh in a row, a feat not bested (or worsted) since current All Blacks coach Ian Foster in the franchise’s inaugural season in 1996.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed in the UK of course, where former England flyhalf and Times pundit Stuart Barnes has taken aim at the former Wales supremo.
Barnes’ thesis is a pretty simple one. He believes that Gatland’s Northern Hemisphere style is failing in the South. Barnes describes Gatland as ‘the epitome of a northern hemisphere coach, if not risk-free then risk-averse”.
It’s a culture clash for Gatland, Barnes argues. The man who is oft credited with inventing ‘Warrenball’ – that low-risk, collision heavy brand of rugby, is “struggling to impose his beliefs on how games can be won in a country where the overwhelming priority is how it should be played”.
He pinpoints mercurial fullback Damian McKenzie as an example of a player that doesn’t suit Gatland’s vision of the game. The pint-sized magician is “the antithesis of the Gatland type”, capable of “moments of pure magic” despite never “quite making any match his own”.
“It’s fair to think that a little more McKenzie and the table could look a lot less gloomy from Gatland’s perspective.”
And Barnes doesn’t necessarily see it getting better for Gatland either. “Nine consecutive defeats is a distinct possibility. Such a record isn’t easy for any coach to gloss over, let alone the Lions coach.”
It’s a far cry from Gatland’s god-like status in Welsh rugby. The Hamilton-born coach served Wales over a 12-year period and completed his first Six Nations clean sweep in his debut season in 2008, before repeating the trick in 2012 and finishing on the same high, earlier this year, to win the 2019 tournament.
The native New Zealander, who took charge of two successful British and Irish Lions tours during his tenure with Wales, was also at the helm for three Rugby World Cups, reaching the semi-final stages on two occasions (2011 and 2019) and recently took Wales to the top of World Rugby’s rankings – for the first time – by virtue of a record 14-match unbeaten run.
He was Wales’ longest serving head coach having reigned twice as long as his nearest rival Clive Rowlands, who completed six years in the hot seat from 1968 to 1974, and his achievement of three Grand Slams is only matched by the famous side of the 70s.
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