As the 2019 Rugby World Cup drew to a close, I was in mourning. Over twelve years I had seen my beloved Wales rugby team secure four Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and reach the Rugby World Cup semi-finals twice. A incredible period of success orchestrated by the wonderful Warren Gatland and his magical Wales coaching team. This incredible achievement is epitomised by Warren Gatland being voted the greatest ever rugby coach by followers of Rugby World. And after the 2019 Rugby World Cup ends, Gatland and his team leave us and I wish to say “Thank you!”
Warren Gatland to the Rescue
In November 2007, the Wales national rugby team had hit another low. I had watched Wales lose against Fiji in 38-34 in the group stages of the 2007 Rugby World Cup. The coach Gareth Jenkins was brutally sacked. Wales rugby was, once again, in turmoil.
- Related photo galleries: Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards speaking at a rugby dinner organised by The Events Room
As a passionate Wales rugby supporter, I had felt this pain many times before. The dark days of the 1990s were all too familiar. Something had to change.
The Welsh Rugby Union, not known for bold decision making, actually made a bold decision. In November 2007, they somehow managed to persuade Kiwi Warren Gatland to take on the Wales coaching job. Gatland already had a decent coaching curriculum vitae. Between 1998 and 2001 he took Ireland from a position of zero points and the Wooden Spoon to joint top spot with England, only coming second on points difference. After leaving Ireland, he joined bottom of the table London Wasps, turning the club around to win three Premiership titles and the 2002-2003 European Challenge Cup. He then fleetingly returned to New Zealand only to be lured back to the Northern Hemisphere by Wales.
Despite all his previous successes, I believe that his transformation of the Wales rugby set-up is by far his biggest achievement. In 2007, I was 41 and could not have imagined what was ahead. At the end of his first Six Nations in 2008, I was in the stadium as Wales beat France 29-12 to secure their second Grand Slam in three seasons. Incredible. I was also in the stadium in 2012 when Wales again beat France 16-9 to win another Grand Slam. Another amazing success. And I was there with my Dad in 2019 when the Wales team secured their third and final Grand Slam under the leadership of Gatland, Edwards and co. And we must not forget that Wales narrowly and agonisingly missed out on two Rugby World Cup finals.
In 2019, I was 53. I had seen more Wales rugby success in twelve years under Gatland than since the 1970s. The whole of Wales has a heavy heart as the lovable Kiwi leaves his post. However, he leaves behind a legacy. Gatland and his coaching team have created a team that is able to compete with any in the world, despite our limited numbers and chaotic club setup. As a nation, we have, as so many sports writers have stated, ‘punched above our weight’.
- Related blog: Photographing my rugby heroes
As a rugby fan, Wales supporter and rugby events photographer, I wish to thank Warren, Shaun and the team from the bottom of my heart. I feel so sad to see you leave, but Wales rugby is in a far better state than when you arrived. To me, you and Shaun will always be partly Welsh, whether you like it or not. Good luck with your next British and Irish Lions adventure and may we dream that one day you will return.
Paul Fears is an industrial and commercial photography based in South Wales. For more information or to discuss a specific photography project, please contact Paul on:
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