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Last Updated: Friday, 9 November 2007, 15:14 GMT
The tests facing Gatland
By Sean Davies

New Wales coach Warren Gatland at the Millennium Stadium
Gatland faces a formidable challenge in Wales

There has been general acknowledgement that Wales have landed the right man as their next coach in Warren Gatland, but is that enough?

The Welsh Rugby Union have gone down the foreign, big-money, 'Great Redeemer' road before with Graham Henry.

Few doubt Henry's coaching credentials, but he could not cure the long-term ills in the Welsh game.

So what are the key challenges that Wales' latest Kiwi recruit will face?

PLAYER POWER

Player power has been a hot topic in Welsh rugby since the controversial departure of Mike Ruddock.

606: DEBATE
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The extent to which Gatland's predecessor Gareth Jenkins was able to direct a self-confident, entrenched Wales squad in his brief reign is questionable, with few pundits feeling that they implemented his game plan in the disastrous World Cup exit against Fiji.

But France 2007 was a humbling experience, senior figures have moved on and Gatland showed the ability to handle personalities of the size of Lawrence Dallaglio at Wasps.

"Gatland's a typical Kiwi, it'll be his way or the highway," said ex-Wales scrum-half Terry Holmes. "Player power may now be a thing of the past."

That may be true in the short term, but a recurring theme in Welsh rugby has seen players getting carried away by their own success.

Henry's early golden era came to an abrupt end when he lost the dressing room and Ruddock's Grand Slam team of 2005 tore itself apart, with neither coach having the depth of talent to turn to in order to shake up the established squad.

BACK-ROOM STAFF

Mike Ruddock inherited a back-room staff, and back-room splits helped tear apart his Grand Slam squad.

Wales caretaker coach Nigel Davies
Wales caretaker coach Nigel Davies faces an uncertain future

Gareth Jenkins appointed his own men, but a restricted budget meant a coaching team with little international experience.

The WRU has courted Gatland with an attractive financial package, but the coffers appear full enough to stretch a little further as the Kiwi seems confident of landing the support team he wants.

"I just hope that Gatland's allowed to put his own back-room staff in place, it's his neck on the block so he needs to have everything in place he wants," said ex-Wales prop Graham Price.

Former Wasps side-kick Shaun Edwards is a hot tip to renew his successful partnership with Gatland, while Rob Howley could be tempted from his coaching role at the Blues.

FAN & MEDIA PRESSURE - AND WRU SUPPORT

While Henry admitted to being shocked by the glare of public and media attention that came with the Wales job, Gatland will have some idea of the Welsh national obsession from his time in Britain and Ireland.

But that will mean little when the heat comes on in a patch of bad form, something that seems inevitable in the course of his four-year contract.

Gareth Jenkins leaves the Wales job
Gareth Jenkins was given the sack in a French hotel

The WRU has stressed the importance of giving Gatland an extended stay in the job, but their record of backing coaches is not impressive.

Steve Hansen needed a World Cup warm-up win over Scotland in 2003 to save his job, Ruddock felt he did not receive the necessary backing from his employers before his departure, and Jenkins was sacked in a French hotel the morning after Wales' World Cup exit.

Gatland learnt all about politics when he was sacked by the Irish RFU in 2001, and he will have sought reassurances before taking up the Welsh position.

But will any of that matter to the nation's success-starved fans if performances in their beloved Six Nations start to go wrong?

THE STRUCTURE OF WELSH RUGBY

The nonsensical structure of Welsh rugby seems summed up by the fact that Gatland has been appointed before the man who will become his boss, the yet-to-be-named Elite Performance Director.

It must be assumed that the new coach is aware of the EPD candidates and prepared to work with them, but the balance of power between the two has yet to be defined.

I was told to concentrate on the team alone and not worry about the wider picture - I'm not sure that situation has changed

Ex-Wales coach Alan Davies

Below that, Gatland has expressed a desire to work with the regional sides, previous national coaches having been left frustrated by different approaches to tactics and the overall strategy of Welsh rugby, but without central contracts the Union's control in this area is limited.

Regional rugby remains controversial, with many areas of the country feeling isolated from the professional game, and others believing that four teams do not offer the necessary strength in depth.

The Premiership and other leagues feeding into the regions are generally considered to be performing inadequately, with pundits like Jonathan Davies calling for major reforms from the grassroots up.

Gatland is sure to have forthright views on every level of the game, but voicing them will inevitably lead to opposition from conflicting factions.

"I was told I had a free hand before I took the job, but afterwards I was told to concentrate on the team alone and not worry about the wider picture - I'm not sure that situation has changed," said ex-Wales coach Alan Davies.

Welcome to the wacky world of Welsh rugby, Warren, and good luck... you're going to need it!

SEE ALSO
Corny Captions - Gatland arrives
09 Nov 07 |  Scrum V Extras
Wales' rugby coaches
29 Mar 06 |  Welsh


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