No coach besides the New Zealander has ever steered a nation to a hat-trick of Grand Slams since the rugby union competition was expanded to include first France and later Italy. Gatland now looks to bow out by guiding Wales to maiden Rugby World Cup glory in Japan this autumn.
The Dragons have a ton of momentum on their side and boast a record 14 consecutive Test victories ahead of their World Cup warm up friendlies. Wales go to the land of the rising sun in great form then, and have received support in the market with current online betting odds of 7/1 at 888Sport to win the tournament outright.
Gatland’s team are now reckoned to have same chance of lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy as his former employers Ireland, who they replaced as Six Nations champions. Rugby World Cup history shows Wales have stumbled at the penultimate hurdle twice before, losing in the semi-finals to first-ever winners New Zealand in 1987 and then France, who were runners-up to the All Blacks in 2011.
An 11/4 price is available on the Dragons making the final. Although making the last two in Japan has been beyond them before, this talented young side have every chance of going further at the World Cup than their predecessors if turning up in the same form.
While they are also made odds-on favourites to top Pool D at 8/11, winning their finals group is no gimmie because of the presence of Australia. The Wallabies are 11/10 having beaten Wales in a pool decider at the last Rugby World Cup finals in England back in 2015.
Scrum half Gareth Davies put in some memorable performances scoring five tries during that tournament. Wales’ recent success wasn’t down to many crossings, but a strong defence, accurate kicking and taking chances.
The Dragons scored the joint fewest tries with Italy (10 each) during the Six Nations, but the key was Gatland’s guys conceded least as well. Only seven tries were run in against Wales with 65 points in total given away.
If any one player typifies the strong defensive performances, then it is surely skipper and second row Alun Wyn Jones. The Ospreys lock was readily voted as the Six Nations player of the tournament and shows no sign of his powers in the pack fading despite turning 34 come the Rugby World Cup.
Under AWJ’s leadership on the field and Gatland’s off it, Wales have both a man who leads by example and a coach who has got his tactics spot on in the last year. Even when they put in a dismal first half display away to France in the Six Nations opener, an immediate response was found.
While Australia may not be the force of old, they still need to be respected by the Dragons. Joining the Wallabies, who Wales play second in Pool D, are Georgia, Pacific Island nation Fiji and Uruguay.