The rugby world has witnessed the dramatic progression of the Welsh Dragons from underdogs to world beaters in the making in the last 12 months. Two matches against Australia which had they won would have propelled them as the new favourites to become World’s no 1 in the next few years. Unfortunately for Welsh fans, that did not happen.However this team under the leadership and guidance of Warren Gatland, Rob Howley and Shaun Edwards have made incredible strides to that ultimate goal. I am going to shed a light on the changes that have drastically created a dynasty of Welsh rugby that will go on and make history.
It all started at the start of Gatland’s tenure as manager where the last generation of Wales internationals were coming to a close and the national side needed an influx of youth, exuberance, potential and energy that only comes from bringing in younger talent. This is all good but for me the skill and expertise of Gatland really shone through with his choice and selection of the young players that would serve to take to Wales to the next level. Its easy to pick the form young players for the national side from the provinces but only a few have the ability to produce club form on the international stage. Gatland has now an exciting youthful squad that with game time and experience will be bred into a team that would match any from the northern or southern hemisphere. Players like George North, Rhys Priestland, Toby Faletau have shown what talent they possess and have repaid the confidence and belief in them showed by the Wales management. I must add that large amounts of the credit should also go to the Wales youth management team and the Provinces managerial staff for their coaching and time molding these players into some of the worlds best.
When these players came onto the international scene, they were full of raw potential and talent and Gatland and his staff knew that these players have to obtain substance and the right sort of mentality to really fulfill the potential they have, this not only worked with the younger players in the squad but got more out of the older more experienced players as well. How did he mix substance with raw potential? The answer is training camps. Every international and national team will partake in training camps, but the Welsh managements idea of training camps is far different from that of many other nations. Lets just look at the World Cup preparation that the players and staff undertook. The players undertook 3 weeks of grueling personal training plans before jetting to Poland to undergo 2 separate training camps where they were subject to cryotherapy sessions (-110 degree chambers) as well as working through intense technical training as well as going through a monitored dietary plan. Gatland saw these 5 weeks before the world cup as more crucial as the world cup himself, he said: “We’ve been impressed with the way the squad have responded to the physical pressures we have put them under in the last two weeks. To a man they have all reached the standard to go to Poland,” he then added: “but this is where the real hard work begins. ”
These training camps did more than make the players stronger and more technically gifted, it brought them together as a family, sharing the joys and the agony of the experience with each other. the more experienced members of the squad tutoring and nurturing the novices; a genuine team spirit developed in the cold environment of Spala. Also the management team were able to bond with the players and build a better communication system as a national squad. As a coach, Gatland was able to see who would be able to handle the pressures and who had the mental and physical toughness to not just struggle through the 5 weeks but who could thrive in such intense circumstances. And as I referred to earlier, it gave the younger players substance that they will only achieve glory with intense hard work, commitment and endeavour.
Now onto the influence of Gatland’s tactics. It all started with the winning mentality that this group of players can match anyone only if they apply themselves in the right way, not expecting to roll over times easily but through pressure and possession of the ball in the right areas of the field.Wales are blessed with many talented individuals from 1 -15 but nothing incredible can be achieved without those individuals working as part of a bigger team and it sounds so simple but Gatland has put a real emphasis on the team philosophy and with Sam Warburton leading from the front, this ideal is carried throughout the system. That chose of skipper who will put everything they have into every game and someone who will put epitomize and showcase Gatland’s idea of how the team should play. He was the ideal candidate.
Obviously, I can only give you a brief insight into the mind of Warren Gatland and his management staff and a lot of what I have said seems simple and obvious but trust me when I say this, that it has worked in a massive way and has been integral to the development of the team and the individuals that make up the team. In terms of the long term plan for project Wales, this is only half way into completion.