'Mischief personified' and 'loyal to the end' – the making of Lions coach Gatland


Warren Gatland (centre) was a natural leader even during his school days
Chiefs v British and Irish Lions
Venue: FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton Date: Tuesday, 20 June Kick-off: 08:35 BST
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app

Two hours drive south of Auckland, on the outskirts of Hamilton in North Waikato, sits Hamilton Boys’ High School, one of the largest secondary schools in New Zealand.

It was once home to Black Caps cricketers Scott Styris and BJ Watling, current All Black Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Lions and Ireland back Jared Payne.

Also among the old boys is the man currently trying to mastermind the downfall of the New Zealand team in the forthcoming Test series against the Lions – Warren Gatland himself.

The school motto – “Sapiens fortunam fingit sibi” (“a wise man carves his own fortune”) – could easily apply to the much-travelled Gatland, who has coached in England, Ireland and Wales, in addition to his native New Zealand.

This week, the British and Irish Lions head coach goes home to Hamilton as his side play the Chiefs – their last match before the opening Test against the formidable All Blacks on Saturday in Auckland.

Gatland, now 53, will be returning to the place where it all began in the late 1970s.

He joined the school as a 15-year-old, and immediately stood out as not only a talented athlete, but a leader of men.

Glenn Ross – who has also coached far and wide, from Waikato, to Connacht, Sale and Northampton – was the master in charge of rugby when Gatland arrived.

“Warren arrived in the fifth form and was known as a talented ball player,” Ross told BBC Sport.

“I very quickly realised the boy had a brain ahead of his time, and he became an outstanding captain for our first XV.

“He didn’t say a lot that didn’t need to be said. He was very astute, chose his words wisely, very popular with his boys, but tactically very aware.”

Gatland’s Wales trained at his old school during their 2010 tour of New Zealand

Gatland, who was also a talented cricketer, combined a job as a PE teacher with playing for Waikato after he left school, but according to Ross he was always destined to go into coaching.

“He understood the game, and he had coach written all over him from the days he was captain of the school team,” added Ross, who went on to coach Gatland at provincial level.

“He was an outstanding player. He was a very accurate player, very skilful.”

Gatland made 140 appearances for Waikato between 1986 and 1994 and Ross was involved in his transition from number eight to hooker.

But Gatland can consider himself unfortunate to have found his path to the All Blacks blocked by the legendary Sean Fitzpatrick, who made 92 appearances for New Zealand between 1987 and 1997.

It was an era when players only came off the bench if there was an injury, and although Gatland went on four overseas tours with the All Blacks he had to be content with 17 non-international appearances.

‘Mischief personified’

Steve Gordon first met Gatland as a teenager when they both played together for the Hamilton Old Boys side