Wales head coach Warren Gatland says he is under pressure to leave Welsh rugby on a high as he plots his final year in charge of the national side.
After taking over in 2007, Gatland will leave after the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, a tournament he feels Wales can win.
“As the year goes on, it will really come home to roost that this is my final year,” the New Zealander told the Rugby Union Weekly podcast.
“I’ve loved being in Wales.”
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Recruited to replace Gareth Jenkins following a disastrous World Cup in France in 2007, Gatland has led Wales in over 100 Test matches, winning two Grand Slams.
But the Kiwi insists he has unfinished business at the World Cup, after over-performing to reach a semi-final in 2011 and then a quarter-final four years later.
“It’s my last year and it’s a pressured year because you want to leave on a high and say the national team is in a good state,” he explained.
“The two tournaments that really mean the most are the Six Nations and the World Cup, and you want to do as well as you can in those.
“It would be brilliant to win a Six Nations again and go on and make the final of the World Cup, or potentially win the World Cup.
“That’s the whole focus of the next 12 months.”
‘In a really good place’
With Wales sitting third in the world rankings after a second-placed Six Nations finish and an unbeaten summer tour, Gatland feels his side are poised to deliver on both the European and world stage.
“We’ve developed some depth that we haven’t had in the past and we are in a really good place going forward,” he said.
“We would like to think we are reasonably experienced and that we have extensively planned for the next twelve months, in terms of preparation camps and warm-up games.
“We are in a good position and we feel we have gone into the finer detail to make sure the staff, and more importantly the players, know what to expect over the next twelve months.”
‘Under the radar’
With under a year to go until the World Cup, the contrast between the Wales and England set-ups is noticeable.
While England have experienced a turnover of staff, with John Mitchell replacing Paul Gustard as defence coach, a club versus country row over head coach Eddie Jones’ training methods, and controversy over selection, Gatland’s Wales have appeared serene in comparison, flying under the radar.
“The secret of our success in the past has been when people start talking about other teams,” Gatland added.
“Everyone is talking about how important the November period is for England in terms of performance and results.
“But as a smaller nation we need to think from World Cup to World Cup.
“So we have spoken about whether we can use this six week [autumn] period as a mini-conditioning camp where the rugby takes a little bit of a back-seat, but it will set us up well.”
‘I’ve loved the people’
As his time in Wales draws to a close, Gatland has reflected fondly on the passion, and expectancy, of the Welsh rugby public.
“The thing that I have loved about it has been the people,” he said.
“They are incredibly passionate the Welsh and very knowledgeable about the game – and very opinionated as well, but I love that.
“Wherever I have been they have been incredibly welcoming to me as the Welsh coach, and I am really looking forward to my final year.”