Wales: Warren Gatland hopes smiles and pride are his legacy

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Sport Wales in Tokyo
Warren Gatland ahead of his final match in charge of Wales
2019 Rugby World Cup bronze final: Wales v New Zealand
Venue: Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo Date: Friday, 1 November Time: 09:00 GMT
Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio Wales, Radio Cymru, BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, plus live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app

Warren Gatland hopes his lasting legacy as Wales coach will have been to restore pride in the red jersey and put smiles on players' and fans' faces.

Friday's World Cup bronze medal match against New Zealand will be the last of Gatland's 12-year reign.

Having inherited a team at one of its lowest points in 2007, Gatland has won three Six Nations Grand Slams and led Wales to two World Cup semi-finals.

"We've punched massively above our weight," he said.

"Success as a coach isn't always about winning - I think it's about overachieving as a team and I feel we've definitely done that.

"We're a very small playing nation with a lot of history. The biggest memory I have is the smile we've put back on people's faces to wear the red jersey again and to support the team.

"That makes a massive difference to the whole of Wales as they're proud of the team and the players wear it with pride. They put in 100% and as a coach that's all you can ask.

"I think what Wales have given me is an opportunity and I've absolutely loved my time. We've been lucky enough to have had a lot of success. There have been some lows and disappointments, but I'm very proud of what we've achieved."

Stark contrast in fortunes

Wales' recent success is in stark contrast to the scene when Gatland was appointed in 2007, when a Six Nations campaign including only one win and a World Cup pool-stage exit at the hands of Fiji had prompted the sacking of then head coach Gareth Jenkins.

Since Gatland took over, Wales won a Grand Slam at the first attempt in 2008, followed by two more in 2012 and 2019.

There was also a Six Nations Championship in 2013 when assistant Rob Howley was in charge and while the head coach was on a sabbatical, guiding the British and Irish Lions to victory in Australia.

What remains elusive, however, has been a first World Cup for Wales.

Wales had only reached one semi-final before Gatland arrived - in 1987's inaugural tournament - but under the New Zealander's stewardship, they have been in the last four in two out of three World Cups.

A first final was twice within their grasp, losing by a point to France in 2011 and then by three to South Africa last Sunday.

That leaves Wales with Friday's bronze medal match against New Zealand, who they have not beaten since 1953.

Hansen's New Zealand farewell

With the chance to claim a historic victory over the All Blacks - and with his counterpart Steve Hansen also taking charge of his final match - Gatland believes there will be plenty at stake in Tokyo.

"The All Blacks have made seven changes and it's definitely reflective of players in the squad who haven't been involved in the 23, and a number of players who are probably wearing the All Black jersey for the last time.

"So there will definitely be motivation for them to go out there and perform and play one last time in that black jersey.

"We're in the same boat as well. Even though we'd rather not be playing the third and fourth play-off, I think on reflection you've got to put that behind you and realise there's quite a bit at stake for a number of players, staff and All Black coaches moving on.

"I've been so proud of this group - even after the disappointment of Sunday, I was still proud of the effort. We didn't give up and at 16-16 we had the chance to potentially win that game, but it wasn't to be.

"But one of the things about this group of players is how much pride they've shown in wearing that Welsh jersey.

"I think it would be easy for us to be down on ourselves and throw in the towel, but I expect these players, over the next 48 hours, to lift themselves and go out there and realise there's an opportunity for that group to potentially do something special."

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