Warren Gatland says that he ‘loves’ the passion for rugby that permeates through Wales as his side prepares to wrestle back the Guinness Six Nations title for the first time since 2013.
This year will be Gatland’s 11th – and final – edition of Rugby’s Greatest Championship in charge of Wales, a stint that has seen him collect three titles, two of them Grand Slams.
But the 55-year-old admitted that his responsibilities go above and beyond simply winning when it comes to appeasing one of the most passionate fanbases in world rugby.
“Rugby in Wales is part of the fabric of society,” he said.
“It’s important to the culture, the history, the great players that have come out, and I suppose the great thing about rugby in the northern hemisphere is trying to get some bragging rights.
“When the team has had a great win everyone’s enthusiastic the next week. You meet people on the street and they’re pretty euphoric; if you’ve lost a game they’re disappointed and you can see that in their faces as well. That’s the great thing about professional sport.
“What I love about Wales is I love the people; the people are incredibly passionate about rugby and that’s what makes the game special, what makes people care about the game, and performance and results as well.”
His words were echoed by forwards coach Robin McBryde, who was part of Wales’ Grand Slam-winning side in 2005, as the former hooker detailed how ingrained the sport is across the country.
“It’s part of our heritage,” explained McBryde.
“It’s a big part of our identification with regards to Wales as a nation; it goes alongside our own language.
“Each village has got a rugby club; around the rugby club the community is built. The general mood of the nation heavily relies on the result on the Saturday, so it’s a big part of our culture in Wales.
“We’ve got such a proud history in Wales and intertwined in that is rugby.”
Wales open up their Guinness Six Nations campaign with a trip to the Stade de France on Friday 1 February as Gatland – who will step down as Wales head coach after this year’s Rugby World Cup – looks to seal one final title.
And backs coach – and former international scrum-half – Rob Howley knows exactly what that would mean to the people of Wales.
“It’s the number one sport in Wales; you live and breathe rugby,” said Howley.
“It’s certainly a huge influence in terms of the culture of you as a person. I’ll never forget Graham Henry’s first Six Nations game 10,000 supporters came up to Scotland that weekend.
“Graham just mentioned: ‘what’re all these Welsh people doing up on Princes Street? There must be over 7000.’ And Jenks (Neil Jenkins) said: ‘that’s the Six Nations, that’s how special people think about the Six Nations.’”