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More details revealed on Warren Gatland's role with the Chiefs

By Tom Vinicombe
Warren Gatland. (Photo by Jeremy Ward/Photosport)

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The Chiefs will enter the 2022 season with a re-jigged coaching structure following the departure of forwards guru Neil Barnes and the return of Warren Gatland after his ‘sabbatical’ with the British and Irish Lions.

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Gatland was brought in as head coach on a four-year deal beginning in 2020 but after Clayton McMillan so successfully took the reins last season while Gatland was overseas, the Chiefs made the decision late in 2021 to shift Gatland into a director of rugby role for the next two years and retain McMillan in his current post.

Speaking to RugbyPass in November, McMillan touched on some of the broader responsibilities Gatland might have this season but the Chiefs head coach has now revealed that Gatland will still be getting his hands dirty on the day-to-day and will work alongside David Hill looking after the team’s defence.

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Rassie Erasmus interviews South African player of the year Siya Kolisi.
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Rassie Erasmus interviews South African player of the year Siya Kolisi.

Last year, that was primarily McMillan’s responsibility but with Barnes now heading up Taranaki’s NPC side, he’s had to step into a more hands-on role come lineout time.

“The coaching team is getting on like a house on fire,” McMillan told media on Thursday. “Gats has come in and I think he’s pretty understated but he’s a smart man and we’ve all found our niche pretty quickly, really. We get along pretty well but we all challenge each other pretty hard and we’re all open to growing. The early signs are that it’s going to be a great relationship right across the board.

“In terms of Barnsey departing, I’ve picked up the lineout and David Hill’s going to take a more active role in the defensive side of the game, which him and I shared last year, and Gats is working alongside him to provide some guidance there.”

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McMillan also confirmed that Nic White and Roger Randle would retain their role’s from last season as scrum and attack coaches, respectively, while Alan Bunting, the head coach of the new Chiefs Manawa side, will also spend plenty of time working with the men’s side.

“We’ve also got Alan Bunting, who’s obviously the head coach of the Manawa, but he’s basically a full-time employee of the Chiefs,” McMillan said. “We’ve done that deliberately. He’s filling the skills coaching role.

“We accept that when he’s going to be with the Manawa, that will be his priority, but to kind of accelerate his learning and for us to tap into his experience, he’s been in for the whole pre-season and then once Manawa’s over, he’ll re-integrate back in with us.”

While Gatland’s first year in charge of the Chiefs got off to a strong start, with the team recording three wins from their opening five matches, things took a nasty turn following the Covid-enforced break and the Chiefs lost all eight of their Super Rugby Aotearoa matches.

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In contrast, the side enjoyed a strong 2021, managing nine wins from 14 matches and narrowly missing out on the Super Rugby Aotearoa title to the ever-strong Crusaders.

McMillan says that since returning to the Waikato, Gatland has added value where needed but also maintained a respectful distance so as to learn how the team operates with McMillan in charge.

“Gats is in here every day so this is not a part-time role for him,” he said. “We want him to be here, we want him to have an active role in everything we do. From my perspective, it’s been awesome.

“He’s just really… I wouldn’t say sat back, but he’s been really respectful in seeing how I operated because unlike the other coaches, he didn’t really get to see how I operated [last year]. It’s only taken a couple of weeks to all get into our groove and we’re all really happy.

“I’m really confident that his knowledge, his experience is going to serve us really well in the role that he’s got.”

The inaugural Super Rugby Pacific competition kicks off on February 18, with the Chiefs taking on the Highlanders a day later.

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