Update October 14th 1011
One of the first posts in LWD recognised the skills of Warran Gatland in building a successsful Welsh rugby team. The original is reproduced on the eve of the semi-finals of Rugby’s World Cup in New Zealand, where Gatland’s youthful team prepared to play France
In Welsh rugby, the New Zealand connection runs deep. There is admiration for the rugby success of a hilly little nation with more sheep than potential scrum halves. The admiration is not diminished by neighbours with sporting attitude. Yesterday’s Triple Crown battle was framed as Warren Gatland coaching Wales, against Eddie O’ Sullivan, who succeeded Gatland as coach of Ireland
Maybe, as a long-time exile, I am out of touch with the Principality and its contemporary culture. Rugby was always the national sport by a Mumbles mile. And in Rugby, The Triple Crown held a mystique in Wales that goes beyond any other sporting challenge that I can think of.
Arguably, boxing success might be up there, with rugby achievements. At the moment, Joe Calzaghi is adding another name to a hall of fame occupied by the shades of Jimmy Wilde, Tommy Farr, and Dai Dower. But for the most part, it’s rugby all the way down. And it has been pretty much all the way down, since the glory days of the 1970s.
Yesterday’s match against Ireland had another twist to it. It had been billed as a grudge match between the coaches, the very Irish O Sullivan, and the very non-Welsh Warren Gatland.
The start of a legend
Where to start the story? Wherever you like, but mention the hunger rations of Welsh rugby fans for decades. Mention the flicker of hope when the brilliant Graham Henry came in as coach from New Zealand a few years ago. Henry went back to New Zealand to build a team there billed as one of the greatest ever seen. That was the team that was expected to walk to victory in the World cup in 2007, and slunk away in near disgrace from the rubble of expectations.
Mention the local heroes who tried and failed after Henry. But above all, mention Warren Gatland.
Gatland begats Osprayia on the Mumbles
And so it was that a few months before this season’s competition, the much-maligned Welsh rugby selectors turned away from local heroes, and brought in another New Zealand coach, another would-be rescuer from across the seas.
The man created hope. He created more than hope. He created Ospraylia, a new country of dreams around the Mumbles, the hills overlooking the Mumbles Bay, and the sleep-steeped Dylan Thomas town of Swansea. HIs creation was based on The Ospreys, its newly created provincial rugby team.
Out of Osprey land he called forth a team of warriors, with just a few other recruits from the distant city state of Cardiff. The army marshaled against the Irish was as follows
Wales [Osprayia]: L Byrne (Ospreys); M Jones (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Blues), G Henson (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), AW Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt).
Replacements: G Williams (Blues), D Jones (Ospreys) for A. Jones (72), I Evans (Ospreys), G Delve (Gloucester) for R. Jones (75), D Peel (Scarlets), J Hook (Ospreys) for S. Jones (65), S Parker (Ospreys).
Gatland had hit on an old idea, which worked brilliantly. He would create new hope in a new dream. The dream was both new, and as old as the Celtic myths of leaders who took their armies across the Irish Sea to do battle.
And so it was that the warriors from Osraylia walked calmly on to another great place of battle, Croke park. Ireland were held to be favourites on track record, plus home advantage.
The battle was fierce. After fifty minutes ,the teams were level at 6-6. A ferocious start from the Irish had been fought off. The Ospraylians, drilled to overcome past errors of indiscipline, by Gatland, twice lost men banished from the fray for their misdeeds.
Even then they clung on.
The Decisive Blow
The decisive blow came with a scampering try from Shane Williams, the smallest man on the field (Ireland’s own mini-hero, Skinner, was on the replacement bench). Williams had been struggling to avoid contact with full-size Irish defenders throughout, but he managed that one glory run on adrenaline-enriched fuel and fear. Ospraylia were ahead.
After that it was trench warfare in mud and rain. But the Irish could make no headway. Two minutes of grunt and scrabble ended it. Not a great match. But a great result and a great story.
The Independent View
The Independent returned to the tale of two coaches
In four victories Warren Gatland has transformed the rabble that was once the Dragonhood into a unit who have competitive steel to match the talent that has lain untapped for far too long. Of course, there was some personal revenge being wreaked on the nation that dispensed of Gatland’s services so abruptly six years ago, not to mention on the ambitious assistant who took his job. But when he claimed that “this was not about me and Eddie [O’Sullivan]” it was difficult not to see his point. Wales have found Warren, Warren has found Wales and this love affair will run and run.
Maybe. That’s the thing about leadership myths. Sometimes the hero gets to bask in glory ever after. More often he is brought low. Ask the Greeks. Ask the bards of Wales brought up on the tales on the Mabinogion, in which the warrior princes of Wales travel to Ireland in search of glory and honour, back in the Land of their fathers.
Image: Appropriately disoriented image from disoriented blogger