You have to give it to Warren Gatland. When he makes his bold predictions, more often than not he backs them up. He said that New Zealand could be beaten by his British and Irish Lions team, and he was right. He said Wales could win 12 games in a row, and he was right. And most astonishingly, he insisted that if they could beat France in a difficult Six Nations opener in Paris, they would win the whole thing.
He was right.
“It’s nice when predictions come true, isn’t it?” the beaming Kiwi said after watching Wales finally deliver the complete performance that they had not found until the final weekend of the Six Nations, with the 25-7 win over Ireland a much slimmer scoreline than their dominance deserved.
“I’ve got to have that belief and self-confidence in us, and if I can portray that on to the players in some small way then hopefully they can believe it as well. The boys thoroughly deserve it. Creating history and winning Grand Slams are things nobody can ever take away from you.”
Again, he’s right. The Wales squad has achieved a heroic feat in stretching their winning record to 14 consecutive games and sealing a third Grand Slam and fourth title since Gatland took the reins in 2008. But a great deal of credit has to go to the Kiwi himself for getting Wales here.
The 2008, 2012 and 2013 successes were celebrated just a passionately as this one, but this Grand Slam feels like it has the catalyst to build into something even bigger. With a Rugby World Cup at the end of the year, and Wales well placed in a pool that contains Australia, Georgia, Uruguay and Fiji, suddenly the thought of the Red Dragon going deep in the tournament is not so farfetched.
What they will have to do though is find a way to replicate the ferociously passionate atmosphere of Cardiff in Japan. Wales were in real danger of seeing their Grand Slam bid fall at the first hurdle against France in Paris when they trailed 16-0 at half-time, and their second-string were far from convincing in Rome against Italy.
Even in Scotland, the 18-11 win was far closer than Gatland would have wanted, but with England and Ireland wilting in the Principality Stadium pressure-cooker – even with the roof open – Wales are a different beast at home than they are on the road.
“I will miss the atmosphere of a full house, coming in on the bus, the fans and the celebrations afterwards,” said Gatland.
“I think I will enjoy that (winning three Grand Slams) afterwards, but the game is always about the players, and we stress that.
“This group of players will run through a brick wall for you,” Gatland added. “I am excited for the World Cup because you get two or three months together and you can prepare like a club side. You can go into a lot of skill development and really fine-tune your game. From that point of view, we will be in great shape.
“In our previous two World Cups, we were one of the fittest teams in the World Cup. We will be in good shape for this one as well.”
You have to believe what he says – his form suggests nothing otherwise. And the two things with Gatland and his soon-to-be-departing coaching staff is that they will celebrate this Grand Slam success, as they should, and then they will build on the foundations they have laid for even greater things in the future, as they should.
Fourteen straight wins and a Six Nations Grand Slam? Wales might just be getting started.
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