Warren Gatland says he is “under no illusions what the expectations are” after signing on for a second coaching stint with Wales to mastermind next year’s Six Nations and World Cup campaigns.
And the 59-year-old New Zealander also delivered a short response to questions about speculation linking him with England’s top job, adding: “Don’t believe everything you read in newspapers”.
A Rugby Football Union review is currently assessing England’s poor Autumn Nations Series amid uncertainty surrounding head coach Eddie Jones’ future.
A decision on whether Jones goes or stays is likely in the next 48 hours, but Gatland has committed to Wales.
He replaces Wayne Pivac as head coach, with the Welsh Rugby Union confirming Pivac’s departure following their review of Wales’ autumn series that included a home defeat against Georgia.
WRU chief executive Steve Phillips said Gatland, who leaves his position as rugby director at the New Zealand-based Chiefs with immediate effect, will take charge of Wales for the Six Nations later this season, and the World Cup in France, which starts in September.
But Phillips added that there is “the ability to go through the next World Cup cycle up to and including Australia 2027”.
Wales won just 13 of 34 Tests under Pivac’s direction after he succeeded Gatland following the 2019 World Cup.
And Gatland now makes an extraordinary return to the post he held between 2008 and 2019, during which time Wales won four Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, reached two World Cup semi-finals and briefly headed the world rankings.
Speaking to reporters via Zoom from New Zealand, Gatland said: “At the end of the day, I know it is a pressure job with a lot of expectation.
“But the buzz of international rugby, being involved in the Six Nations, World Cup – I think they were the key factors to sway me to come back.
“I am under no illusions what the expectations are, but I have always loved the challenges.
“I have always loved going into environments with their expectations, and hopefully exceeding the expectations.
“The advantage I’ve got is that I know the set-up and that I know so many of the people involved, so I think I can hit the ground running.
“I think that’s a massive advantage that I’ve got in terms of knowing Wales and the set-up. I think I can come in there and hopefully be pretty seamless in stepping into the role.”
And on England, he said: “I am only here really to speak about Wales, but what I can say is, don’t believe everything you read in newspapers.”
Gatland is expected to arrive in Wales next week, with the Six Nations planning set to start immediately.
Among his early tasks will be to decide on the make-up of his coaching support staff, which under Pivac featured Stephen Jones, Jonathan Humphreys, Gethin Jenkins and Neil Jenkins.
Gatland said: “To be honest, I haven’t really considered that. It has kind of been such a whirlwind in the last 72 hours.
“I need to go through a process where I need to talk to people. I need to get the lay of the land on how things are there within the set-up, and then I will make the appropriate decisions about what happens, going forward.
“With the people, the backroom staff, the players that I know, there is going to have to be some delving into looking at what is the best way going forward with the squad.
“That is going to be over the next few weeks, and there are a number of people that I need to talk to and have discussions with.”
Gatland added that he was concentrated on the Six Nations, which Wales begin against Ireland on February 4, and World Cup, rather than looking beyond those tournaments.
“My immediate focus is between now and the World Cup, and I think afterwards it’s myself and Steve (Phillips) talking about possibilities going forward,” he said.
“During that 10 months we’ve got to be showing progress and that we have been successful, and then potentially other opportunities arise from that.
“That is kind of how we are at the moment. There’s no certainty, but I am comfortable with that.
“I am confident I can come in and make a difference and create an environment we can be successful in. If that happens, then potentially other discussions may take place.
“He (Phillips) contacted me post the review and asked if there was a possibility that I might be interested in coming back.
“He emphasised just how tight the time-frame was and they needed a quick decision and a quick answer, because once they had made the decision they needed to put someone in place for the Six Nations.”