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The 2019 Gatland remarks that foreshadowed Welsh rugby's decline

By Ian Cameron
Steve Hansen speaks with Warren Gatland prior to the World Cup 2019 bronze medal match between New Zealand and Wales in Tokyo (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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Did Warren Gatland see the storm clouds gathering for Welsh rugby back in 2019? A re-read of remarks made by the nation’s greatest ever head coach on eve of the Barbarians versus Wales game the month after they returned from Japan makes for weirdly prophetic reading in 2022.

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Since his departure after that Rugby World Cup, where Wales finished a more than respectable fourth, the trajectory has been resolutely downward for Welsh rugby.

A Six Nations title in 2021 papered over the cracks for Wayne Pivac’s side, but if any Welsh rugby fan was left with any residual optimism then a rude awakening in the form of a fifth-place finish in the same tournament and a humiliating home loss to Italy will have disabused them of it.

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Doom-mongers and perennial critics of the WRU are now sharpening their knives in what seems to have become a perpetual, moveable feast for those bemoaning the sport’s downfall in a country once besotted with the 15-man code.

If anything, it’s been worse away from the Test arena. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the regions have endured a season from hell, both in the URC and in Europe, while internal harassment allegations have rocked the union in recent weeks.

Even from a neutral perspective, it’s been a painful process to watch play out.

Welsh great Jonathan Davies told RugbyPass in February that he feared Wales’ decline needed to be arrested if they didn’t want a repeat of the 1990s.

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Yet while the problems may be manifesting most visibly at Test level, there’s a widespread understanding that the issues are not just a case of a dip in form for the national team; it’s a malaise rooted deep in the structural failings of the Welsh system.

And it might be that Gatland saw it coming.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard not to read New Zealander’s November 2019 comments words as that of a man genuinely fearful for the future of the side he had guided to remarkable success for over a decade.

“I really hope for what we’ve achieved in the last 10-12 years, and we feel we’ve earned respect and put respect back into Wales as an international team, that the new coaches coming in continue to build on that,” Gatland said. “Because what we have done, what we have achieved, it would break my heart if Wales went back into the doldrums.

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“I just want them to continue. There’s an opportunity for the new group to come in and build on what we’ve created and to improve on it.

“It’s not to be too greedy on winning the Six Nations every year, but going out there and performing well in the Six Nations. And to continue to hopefully get a few Six Nations titles over the way and make sure we are as competitive as we can possibly be against the other top nations.

“We feel we have done that, and I really want Wales to continue to build on that. I want to see these boys be as successful as they possibly can.”

Sadly, that’s not how it’s panning out.

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