This time of year always lends itself to reflection and few in the sporting world will feel more vindicated than New Zealander Warren Gatland, the Wales head coach who has signed on with the union until after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

If he serves out his term, Gatland, who joined Wales in 2007, will be the longest-serving head coach of any national union in history. He will become the longest-serving Wales coach during next year's Six Nations.

It is Gatland's second contract extension with Wales and he has managed to do what fellow Kiwis Graham Henry and Steve Hansen could not - carve out a long career in the principality, despite the politics and backbiting of the strong yet divided club scene coupled with a demanding rugby-supporting public.

Wales won this year's Six Nations but the key to Gatland's popularity in Britain, of course, was his success as the coach of the Lions over Australia this year. The tributes now are a far cry from the criticism he received during the week of the final test against the Wallabies in Sydney in June when he dropped Ireland's captain Brian O'Driscoll. Gatland knew the Lions had the ability to win the decider but that he had to make changes.


What hurt him wasn't the avalanche of criticism from Dublin and beyond, but that he was betraying the spirit of the Lions by selecting 10 Welshmen to start.

"I have no problem with people criticising from a rugby perspective," he told the Daily Telegraph in October.

"It was the other stuff that got to me - the conspiracy theories that it was an anti-Irish thing or a pro-Welsh thing. That personal stuff got to me."