Warren Gatland will clock up a Test match century next weekend — but Wales hooker Ken Owens does not believe he gets enough credit.
Wales’ Six Nations clash against Ireland in Dublin will be head coach Gatland’s 100th at the helm since he took charge 10 years ago.
Only New Zealand World Cup winner Graham Henry has overseen more games — 103 — for one country, with Gatland set to pass that mark when Wales tour Argentina this summer.
Wales have won three Six Nations titles, two Grand Slams and reached a World Cup semi-final during Gatland’s reign, which will come to an end after the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
He has plenty on his agenda before then, including a continued interest in this season’s Six Nations title race, while the Ireland fixture also sees him up against a country he coached between 1998 and 2001.
And when Gatland’s two British and Irish Lions tours as head coach are added to the mix – a series victory over Australia five years ago, and a drawn series with world champions New Zealand last summer – it puts the 54-year-old in elevated company.
Asked if Gatland receives enough credit, Owens said: “I don’t think so.
“Both inside and outside of Wales, for some reason, he’s always had to — not explain himself — but prove himself, despite helping transform Wales.
“We’ve been right up in the mix and things haven’t gone right always, but we’ve always been there or thereabouts and we are a very tough team to break down.
“We have won three [Six Nations] championships and two Grand Slams in the last 10 years, and he has won one Lions series and drawn the other.
“The New Zealand tour was the second-best result there in Lions history, and if you look at New Zealand over the past 20 or 30 years, they haven’t lost at Eden Park and we got a draw there. They hadn’t lost a home Test since 2008 or 2009, and we beat them [in Wellington].
“He is a great coach, and his work with the Lions has put him up there with the best.
“He has been my only coach in international rugby. He knows how to get the best out of players. When we have been in tough situations, he knows how to get that extra couple of per cent out of you.
“He is a very good man manager. Some boys need a cwtch (cuddle) or a bit of a look-after every now and again, and others need the stick. It’s a bit of both.
“He has managed that and put a massive emphasis on the fact family comes first. If everything is fine off the field, then all you have to worry about is the rugby, and he’s great at that.”
Owens, who made his Test debut under Gatland during the 2011 World Cup and now has 54 caps, also hailed Gatland’s adaptability that has helped keep him at the forefront of Test rugby’s ever-changing landscape.
“You don’t stay in a job like this and do as well as he has without changing things up, changing your style of play, and I think you’ve seen that with Wales in the last few years,” Owens added.
“I think we are playing some really good stuff now. Looking forward to the World Cup, we’re in a really good place now.
“He [Gatland] enjoys playing the Irish. He and the coaches do, whether that’s because of rivalries because Gats played and coached at Connacht and coached the Irish team, or because he has coached the Irish boys on Lions tours, there is a rivalry there.
“They are up there with the best sides, and they’ve been one of our biggest rivals over the last 10 years. There is that special something between the Welsh and the Irish.”