April 09, 2020

Sitting on the All Blacks pine made Gatland a better coach

Gallagher Chiefs head coach Warren Gatland said the experiences of sitting on the bench behind starting hooker Sean Fitzpatrick has made him the coach he is today, because he was always analysing the game.

Gatland spoke in-depth with the panel on Sky Sport’s the Breakdown show about making the switch from No.8 to hooker when he was in his early 20s. He played 17 non-international matches for the All Blacks, but never won a Test cap.

“Those experiences with the All Blacks and me sat on the bench a number of times behind Fitzy, remember in those days you could only be replaced for an injury, it made me a better coach. It definitely gave me an understanding about my role and what was important. For me, I expect my players to be really disappointed about missing out on selection. I expect them to believe in themselves and want to be selected but then it’s how they respond to that disappointment afterwards.

“If you sulk and throw your toys out of your pram you are going to find yourself not in my squad very often because the team is more important.”

He said he’s continually learning as a coach, despite his rich résumé, but he’s enjoying being back in New Zealand.

“That’s the thing about coaching is I don’t know all the answers and I don’t know everything about the game, so I am learning all the time. I want to be challenged by other coaches in our environment and I want the players to challenge and question me. There are a lot of good things happening in New Zealand, but there are also a lot of good things happening in the northern hemisphere. So, just bringing two or three points that I learned back there [Wales], they are different to what’s happening in New Zealand.”

Gatland, who played 140 games for Waikato, chimed into the covid-19 debate about how the rugby landscape could look once the world eventually returns to normal. Whilst no plans are set in stone, he pitched some intriguing ideas.

“If Tests in July and August are called off, do the southern hemisphere teams go up north and play in a round robin tournament where there is revenue sharing. I think there is potentially an opportunity to earn about 20 million pounds for each home nation if they did something like that with revenue sharing.”

The British and Irish Lions coach also toyed with the idea of a decider against the All Blacks, after the 2017 series ended in a draw.

“The All Blacks could go up there and we could do a bit of a decider before we go to South Africa at the end of June next year. There is potentially an opportunity to make four to five million pounds from a game like that to put some money back into the coffers that we are going to need.”

Gatland is in lockdown with his family in Waihi Beach and while he says their isolation is going well so far, he is also staying really focused on his Gallagher Chiefs players. He isn’t the slightest bit worried about their fitness and readiness if Super Rugby returns this year.

“That’s the easy part, the players will pick up the rugby really quickly, but what’s important is what’s happening now. It’s dealing with the emotional side of things. There are players who are apprehensive about what’s happening in the future, about taking pay cuts, and players who are out of contract or leaving and going onto other jobs or clubs. Those things are more important than the rugby. We know once we get some dates and hopefully, we can get some rugby before too long, but for me it’s about the mental side and making sure things are right at home, people are safe and happy.”

The Breakdown airs every Tuesday night at 8:30pm, live on Sky Sport 1.

Sitting on the All Blacks pine made Gatland a better coach