November 2007, Chiswick. On the cusp of accepting the job as Wales coach and with the contract there in front of him, ready to be signed, Warren Gatland's phone rings.

It is his daughter, Gabby. Gatland was not to know at the time, but two quick calls from his eldest child – then just 14 – were to change his life.

"I was sitting there with the contract in front of me and my heart was pounding," Gatland remembers, settled deep in a chair at Wales' training headquarters just outside Cardiff. "I was thinking 'Am I doing the right thing? I'm not sure. Shall I just get up and walk out?'.

"I have never told anyone this, but my daughter Gabby rang me and said: 'Dad, don't do it'. Then she rang me back 20 minutes later and said: 'If you want to do it, I will support you.' That was quite hard from a family perspective. But eventually I signed the contract. And that was the start."


More than a decade and 99 Test matches later, Gatland is still Wales coach. With neat timing, he brings up his century on Saturday in Ireland, the only other country he has coached.

It makes the 54-year-old only the second international coach to record 100 games in charge of one nation. Gatland's fellow Kiwi Sir Graham Henry is the other, having coached New Zealand on 103 occasions.

Gatland's longevity is impressive and his numbers are none too shabby, either. His win percentage with Wales is 51; in the Six Nations, it is 69. Between 1998 and 2007, Wales' success rate in the northern hemisphere's premier tournament was just 41, a figure warped by the 2005 Grand Slam. Saturday's clash with Ireland will be Gatland's 144th in international rugby. It means he is now the most experienced international coach in history. Henry's total – which also included 36 with Wales and three with the British and Irish Lions – is 142.

Warren Gatland. Photo / AP
Warren Gatland. Photo / AP

"Last year Graham said to me: 'How many caps do you have?'" Gatland recalled. "I said: 'Honestly, I don't know'. He said he was on 140-something and with Wales, Ireland and the Lions, I was over 100.

"I wasn't quite sure, but reaching it with Wales is pretty cool and I think pretty humbling, too. I have been fortunate to have had two sabbaticals in that time and the years away with the Lions have been refreshing for the players. I think that has been really good from a Welsh point of view."

Gatland's affection for his adopted nation is clear. An initial four-year contract will have ended up three times that length when he leaves after the 2019 World Cup.

It has been a long tenure, one spent mostly thousands of miles from his home on the banks of Hamilton's Waikato River. Sacrifices have been made, with months spent apart from his wife Trudi, Gabby and his son, Bryn.

"The initial plan was to go to the 2011 World Cup, then come back to New Zealand and do Super Rugby again," Gatland said.

"The New Zealand Rugby Union had contacted me in 2011 and offered me the Chiefs job. I was pretty close to accepting that, but it was still a strong squad with Wales and we went on to win the Grand Slam in 2012 and then the Championship in 2013.

"I wouldn't have been able to do this for so long with my family being away if I was at a club side. It has been tough, but it has not been unmanageable. It has not been about quantity, but quality time and that's made it easier."

Despite two Six Nations Grand Slams and a World Cup semi-final as well as two unbeaten Lions tours, there are some who still question Gatland's record.

Warren Gatland. photo / Mark Mitchell.
Warren Gatland. photo / Mark Mitchell.

The critics point in particular to his lack of success against southern hemisphere sides and a perceived one-dimensional style of play. The man himself, though, is unequivocal in his belief he has made Wales a better team.

"I think there is a huge amount of respect for what we have achieved," Gatland said. "When people look back over the last 10 years, they'll look back at what has been a golden period of Welsh rugby.

"We've got a generation now who expect Wales to compete against the best teams in the world, but when you change expectations, you possibly create a little bit of a rod for your own back. There is no doubt with the Welsh that when there's agony they want the ecstasy and when you give them the ecstasy, they want the agony again.

"When I was at Wasps [between 2002 and 2005] and England were coming down to Cardiff to play Wales, it wasn't about who was going to win the game, it was about whether it would be 30 or 40 points.

"Now we're competitive against whoever we play. I've got to be honest and our record against southern hemisphere opposition hasn't been as good as we would have liked. But now I think anyone who follows Wales can think their team has a good chance."

The next World Cup in Japan will be his farewell and while there remains hope of a first Welsh Six Nations title since 2013 this season, Gatland is determined to end with a bang.

"Some of the Welsh guys from the 1970s won three Grand Slams and that's as good as anyone in the history of the game," Gatland said. "My focus now is doing well in Japan in 2019. A group of our guys will know that's their last World Cup; Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Davies, Sam Warburton, Ken Owens, Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny. If they're in the squad and can stay fit, they will be pretty motivated to finish on a high. It's the same for me."

Gatland's 99 Tests
Overall record
Won 50
Drawn 2
Lost 47

Gatland's record as Wales coach
v Italy Played 9 won 9 - 100%
v Scotland Played 9 won 9 - 100%
v Argentina Played 3 won 3 - 100%
v Samoa Played 2 won 2 - 100%
v Canada Played 1 won 1 - 100%
v Georgia Played 1 won 1 - 100%
v Namibia Played 1 won 1 - 100%
v Tonga Played 1 won 1 - 100%
v Uruguay Played 1 won 1 - 100%
v Fiji Played 4 won 3 - 75%
v France Played 9 Won 4 Lost 4 - 56%
v Ireland Played 11 Won 6 Drawn 1 Lost 4 - 55%
v England Played 13 Won 5 Lost 8 - 38%
v South Africa Played 12 Won 2 Lost 10 - 17%
v Australia Played 10 Won 1 Lost 9 - 10%
v New Zealand Played 11 Lost 11 - 0%
v Barbarians Played 1 Lost 1 - 0%

To get the day's top sports stories in your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here