Warren Gatland facing tall order to revitalise Wales but ‘anything is possible’
Warren Gatland has adopted an “anything is possible” approach as he prepares to embark on his second stint as Wales head coach in this season’s Guinness Six Nations Championship.
Gatland enjoyed sustained success that highlighted his previous tenure between 2008 and 2019.
During that time, Wales won four Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams, reached two World Cup semi-finals and were briefly the number-one team in the world.
Welsh rugby had not experienced such prolonged excellence since the golden era in the 1970s that was dominated by household names such as Sir Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams and Gerald Davies.
Gatland has arrived back, though, with Wales having dropped to ninth in the world following a miserable 2022 under his predecessor Wayne Pivac that featured just three wins in 12 Tests.
And the list of defeats included shock home losses against Italy and Georgia – results that effectively combined to cost Pivac his job.
While many Welsh fans will hope that Gatland’s Midas touch can revive fortunes through the Six Nations and World Cup in France later this year, it could prove a tall order.
🏴 Warren Gatland has named his @WelshRugbyUnion squad for this year's #GuinnessSixNations 🏉
Dyma garfan Cymru 👇#AwakenAnticipation pic.twitter.com/owdWz717uE
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 17, 2023
Ireland and France go into the Six Nations as clear favourites, while England under new boss Steve Borthwick will undoubtedly make an impact on the tournament.
Wales’ opener against Ireland in Cardiff on February 4 is therefore likely to shape a Six Nations campaign where momentum is everything.
“There is a bigger picture to look at, but the Six Nations is never a free shot,” Gatland said.
“It is important, and it has always been important for us. For us, the Six Nations is when points are at stake.
“Sometimes, the autumn is the free shot. You don’t get a free shot in the Six Nations. It’s a competition you want to win.
“Ireland at home is tough, but it’s a great game for us and is something we can look forward to.
“It (winning the Six Nations) wasn’t believable 15 years ago, so anything is possible.
“I am incredibly competitive, and I will do whatever it takes to get this team to a position where they can compete with the best sides in the world.
🏴 Capten Cymru 🎙
Hear what it means to Ken Owens to be Welsh captain and how he found out! 👇#WelshRugby | @scarlets_rugby pic.twitter.com/i7ZRtDcWxM
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏴 (@WelshRugbyUnion) January 17, 2023
“That will take some time, but I can guarantee we will work extremely hard. I am positive we will compete extremely well in the Six Nations.”
Wales will be skippered by hooker Ken Owens, with almost a third of Gatland’s 37-man squad having more than 50 caps.
But there is also an opportunity for new faces in four uncapped players chosen by Gatland – centres Mason Grady and Keiran Williams, plus locks Rhys Davies and Teddy Williams.
“I think the challenge is balancing the older players who have been part of the squad with the younger players,” Gatland added.
“How many changes do you make? We need to give the youngsters opportunities leading into the World Cup. It is a balancing act.
“I think that is reflected in the squad. There are experienced players that we want to be a part of it, but there are a lot of players who haven’t got many caps behind their name who need more experience.
“It is important that we do well in the Six Nations, but we have to think about the next 10 months as well.”