Warren Gatland breaks new ground with Wales

In his final Guinness Six Nations campaign in charge of Wales, Warren Gatland moved into a class of his own as he led Wales to a third Grand Slam.

In his final Guinness Six Nations campaign in charge of Wales, Warren Gatland moved into a class of his own as he led Wales to a third Grand Slam.

After clean sweeps in 2008 and 2012, Wales have done it again, and in the most impressive of fashions as they powered past Ireland 25-7 at Principality Stadium.

That victory moved Gatland ahead of a quintet of illustrious coaches with two Slams to their names – Wales’ John Dawes, Jacques Fouroux of France, England’s Geoff Cooke and French pair Jean-Claude Skrela and then Bernard Laporte.

No one has managed three, and it was only fitting that the New Zealander bowed out with another, a couple of months after boldly stating that if Wales won in Paris in Round One, they would win the Slam.

They did it the hard way at the Stade de France, coming from 16-0 down at half-time, but have built from there with four further victories, culminating in a majestic display in Cardiff.

And after heaping praise on his players, as he always does, Gatland admitted that it will be a strange feeling watching the Championship next year and not being in the thick of the action.

He explained: “You’re involved in professional sport as a player or as a coach, if you’re lucky enough, to experience days like this.

“So you’re going to miss the atmosphere at the games, the full house, coming in on the bus to see the fans and then the celebrations afterwards.

“They’ve worked their butts off in this campaign, we’ve pushed them hard and they’ve done a lot of their own preparation and they’ve worked hard in helping each other prepare for matches.

“When I’m sitting somewhere next year, watching the Guinness Six Nations, it’s definitely something I’ll miss.

“But having been involved with this group of players and being involved with Wales for so long, I just hope they can continue what we’ve done in the last ten or 12 years.

“Being successful, being a team that’s hard to beat and I know when the players put that jersey on, the Welsh public just want to see the players try hard – if they try hard, that’s all you can ask for.”

After a stint with Ireland at the turn of the century, Gatland has experienced remarkable success in Wales.

Taking over a team who had just missed out on a World Cup quarter-final, he was able to immediately revitalise them and earn a Grand Slam in his first campaign in charge.

That in itself was an extraordinary achievement, but it is his longevity which is the most impressive aspect of his success.

A dozen years at the top makes him Wales’ longest-serving coach by a long way, twice as long as Joe Schmidt, his opposite number on Saturday who was also coaching his final Guinness Six Nations game in charge of Ireland.

And Schmidt paid tribute to Gatland’s ability to keep his team on top for more than a decade in typically gracious manner.

He said: “I’d like to take my hat off to Wales and Gats. To be 12 years as an international coach… I’ve done six and it has damn near killed me, so I don’t know how Gats has managed 12!

“They hadn’t won one for five years, so to get this one, you could see what it meant to them while they were celebrating.

“We would have loved to have won it but hats off to Wales – what a super effort [on Saturday] and through the Championship.”