Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Warren Gatland after All Black victory holy grail

Wales head coach Warren Gatland looks on before the RBS 6 Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium. Photo / Getty
Wales head coach Warren Gatland looks on before the RBS 6 Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium. Photo / Getty

Ian Foster and Warren Gatland are as Waikato as the brewery smell wafting from the south end of Hamilton or the Starlight Ballroom.

They were Mooloo men in one of the great red, yellow and black eras of the late '80s and early '90s. Five-eighths Foster holds the provincial record of 148 appearances and hooker Gatland clicked over 140 games.

Both were good enough to play for the All Blacks. Somehow Foster never crossed that divide which was a head-scratcher in an era when others of lesser quality were promoted.

Gatland made the jump but never past 17 tour matches as the formidable Sean Fitzpatrick hogged the No 2 test jersey.

But the Waikato hooker was the pincer in 1993 when they finished off Fitzy and Auckland's eight-year hold on the Ranfurly Shield. They travelled to Eden Park with a plan not to engage all the yappers in the host pack - Fitzy, the Whettons and the Brookes.

Waikato had the lead and in the last few minutes pinned Auckland on their line. There was no way out for the Shield-holders; they were on toast and Gatland couldn't contain himself.

As the front rows were about to engage, Gatland stared at Fitzpatrick, his All Black nemesis, and chirped, "You've had it long enough".

Tenure is something Gatland understands after 89 tests in charge of Wales and tours with the Lions as assistant coach in 2009 and then as head coach in 2013 when they won the series against the Wallabies.

Like many, his success rate with Wales plummets when they play Southern Hemisphere sides.

Gatland has prepared Wales for nine tests against the Wallabies and won once, 11 against the Springboks for one success and seven times against the All Blacks without a result.

Wales' points differential against the Wallabies and Springboks is not too bad but the All Blacks have scored 223 points against his side's 91.

That gulf may not reappear in the three-test series this month between the All Blacks and Wales, nor will there be much money on the tourists breaking the 62-year losing streak they have endured since December 19, 1953, when they last beat the All Blacks 13-8.

In a parlance Gatland understands with his interest in horses, the Welsh squad have been lightly raced in recent weeks. However they got back into harness against England last week and have a few players, in particular captain Sam Warburton who is returning from a shoulder injury, who are critical to their hopes of overturning that history.

It's a tour which could also have ramifications for Gatland and any aspirations to return next year as the repeat boss of the Lions.

The 52-year-old has been dancing around that topic, as would anyone with an itinerary against the All Blacks and Super Rugby squads.

He will also see it as the ultimate challenge. He has coached Ireland, Wales and the Lions who have not won a series in New Zealand since 1971. The last group to tour in 2005 under Clive Woodward's command were unpopular and wiped out.

If Wales put up a strong showing this time and Gatland rises to the challenge and approval of the selection committee, a return with the Lions in 2017 will be a massive challenge.

He's probably gone beyond the chance to pitch for a job with the All Blacks, although never say never. He did work alongside Foster with the Chiefs in 2006-07 before leaving for Wales and the head coaching mortar board after what he felt was a frosty liaison with the New Zealand Rugby hierarchy.

His wife and children live in Hamilton while Gatland's working patch has been up north for a large chunk of the last two decades. Time back here with his family is highly valued as is his bolt-hole at Waihi Beach and the fishing.

Work though is for the scarlet jersey cause and that holy grail - a victory against the All Blacks.

- NZ Herald

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