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Warren Gatland is enjoying having last laugh in Eddie O'Sullivan rivalry

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Matt Browne/ Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Warren Gatland has delivered a withering putdown of Eddie O’Sullivan, the coach who succeeded him after he was sacked as Ireland boss in 2001. The pair had worked together for two years with the Irish team, but their relationship disintegrated after O’Sullivan, who had been an assistant, replaced the Kiwi.   


The pair had another history, Gatland replacing O’Sullivan as Connacht coach some years earlier after his Irish rival had a falling out with the province. Gatland eventually got to settle the Test level score, guiding Wales to Triple Crown success over O’Sullivan’s Ireland at Croke Park in 2008.

O’Sullivan opted to resign some weeks later following an Ireland trouncing by England at Twickenham and while his career subsequently faded away with low-frill stints in charge of USA and Biarritz, Gatland’s status continued to soar with the Welsh following his post-Ireland rehabilitation at Wasps and Waikato. 

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Warren Gatland guests on The Lockdown, the RugbyPass pandemic interview series hosted by Jim Hamilton
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Warren Gatland guests on The Lockdown, the RugbyPass pandemic interview series hosted by Jim Hamilton

Now back in New Zealand in charge of the Super Rugby Chiefs, the 2021 Lions coach voiced stinging criticism of his old Irish rival during an interview on The Lockdown, the RugbyPass pandemic interview series.

“Look, it was tough when I was replaced by Eddie O’Sullivan. I have always said that technically he was a good coach but I’d question some of his man-management skills,” said Gatland. “When I look back now, there has only been one winner in that debate. He’s not in coaching anymore and when he finished with Ireland he struggled in jobs and found it difficult to get coaching positions.”

Having guided Connacht to a breakthrough Challenge Cup quarter-final qualification, Gatland was contacted by the IRFU to replace Brian Ashton as Irish coach after he had resigned following a defeat to Scotland in the opening match of the 1998 Five Nations.

Ireland won 18 of 38 matches in the four years Gatland was at the helm but even a 2001 Grand Slam-ruining win over England in Dublin wasn’t enough for him for secure an IRFU contract extension. 


“I’m indebted to them for the opportunities,” he said looking back 19 years after his sacking. “I was coaching in Ireland at 34 years of age and it wasn’t a job you had any security about. I think I was the ninth coach in the 90s or something. Brian Ashton resigned and I got a phone call on the Sunday, ‘Am I prepared to coach Ireland for the remainder of the Five Nations?’ 

“Was I ready for it? No. But sometimes you get those opportunities in life and you don’t turn them down. I learned so much the four years that I was involved with Ireland. It was the grounding of those experiences that really made me such a better coach when I moved on.

“I look back and I don’t have any hard feelings about that. What disappoints me at times is people say with the Brian O’Driscoll situation, leaving him out of the third Test against Australia for the Lions, it was kind of me trying to punish the Irish for my experiences there. 

“When you’re a coach and you’re desperate to win a game, you don’t think about those things. People at times think I was anti-Irish. I was never anti-Irish. I have got some great friends there and the opportunities they gave me, I can’t express how lucky I was.


“Bryn learned to talk in Ireland so he had a strong Irish accent until he was about 13 or 14… and he has still got a bit of that twang. That was special, and Shauna was born in Ireland, so for us it was where I first had my chances when the game went professional.

“They gave me a chance to coach professionally, initially with Connacht and then with Ireland, so special times. Through disappointment or through adversity, it makes you stronger and you learn from those situations. 

“I definitely learned from the experiences I had as such a young coach. That gave me such a great grounding and I learned so much. It made me such a better coach going forward from my time there.”


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FEATURE Cutting-edge coaching underlines Red Roses' supremacy Cutting-edge coaching underlines Red Roses' supremacy