Gatland inspires Wales to new heights - again

Gatland inspires Wales to new heights - again
Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - Wales v England - Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Britain - February 23, 2019 Wales head coach Warren Gatland during the warm up before the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs Copyright PAUL CHILDS(Reuters)
Copyright PAUL CHILDS(Reuters)
By Reuters
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By Mitch Phillips

LONDON (Reuters) - Once again, Warren Gatland got it right when it really mattered.

The New Zealander will be standing down as Wales coach after the World Cup after 12 years in charge and has ensured they will miss him massively.

His influence before, during and even after Saturday's memorable 21-13 victory over England was immense and once again the adoring Welsh public are dreaming of a Grand Slam - his third - to send him on his way.

Wales had spluttered through their opening two games - a dramatic comeback win in Paris and a scruffy victory over Italy where he admitted he made too many changes.

Conversely England had looked imperious in blowing away defending champions Ireland and France and arrived in Cardiff seeking a sixth successive Six Nations win over their old rivals.

Gatland, however, learned valuable lessons from those England wins and set up his defence accordingly.

His team probably tried to force the game too much early on and paid the price as England's enormously impressive and aggressive defence forced errors and helped them forge a 10-3 halftime lead.

But England's kicking game had been largely nullified by Wales's brilliant back three and the rest of the team's ability to put more pressure on England's halfbacks.

More tactical tweaks at half-time smothered and eventually nullified England's attacking threat while the hosts grew in confidence.

Gatland then played his masterstroke by sending on flyhalf Dan Biggar for the last 20 minutes.

Like his coach, Biggar thrives on the big occasion and duly delivered a cameo for the ages, helping to set up the late tries for Cory Hill and, with a perfectly-placed spiralling kick to the corner, Josh Adams, that won the match.

"The work we had done on our aerial game, knowing how much they were going to kick, I thought we were outstanding in the air," Gatland said after his team had claimed a national record 12th successive win.

"I thought we were smart tactically. They didn't expect us to come with a pick-and-go strategy in the 22 and that definitely caught them out."

That is some achievement in the modern game, where every team has an army of analysts, with Eddie Jones possibly the most diligent researcher of all.

No amount of video footage, however, can help with the emotional challenge of such an occasion.

The longer the game went on the louder the home crowd got and the more England were being backed into a corner. Even Owen Farrell, the coolest of heads and most consistent of operators, was making errors and was powerless to halt the momentum swing.

Gatland probably had the best of the pre-match jousting with Jones too, his comments about Kyle Sinckler being a potential flashpoint proving somewhat accurate.


The abrasive prop was a devastating tackling machine but also gave away several penalties, leading to a warning from the referee and his immediate substitution by Jones.

After the game too Gatland did not let up, effectively dismissing England as chokers.

"I look back on England in the last few years. When it's really mattered, I've questioned whether they can win these big games," he said referring to the team's 2015 World Cup meeting and 2013 title decider which both went Wales's way.

"We've had a record of being pretty good in them."

Asked about Gatland's pre-match comments on Sinckler, Jones said: "I didn't know Warren had a degree in clinical psychology, so let me know I might go and see him as well."


After Gatland so clearly got the better of Saturday's showdown, it might not be a bad idea.

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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