WALES’ returning head coach Warren Gatland has revealed he could have lost a leg after he broke bones in both feet in a fall from a ladder in his native New Zealand in April.
The former All Blacks hooker was cleaning windows at his family beach house on Waihi Beach when he lost his balance and plummeted around ten feet on to concrete, taking the full impact on his heels.
He suffered multiple fractures and needed surgery to reconstruct his right heel.
Gatland subsequently missed most of Wales’ ill fated whitewash tour of Australia in June, Robert Howley taking over from him as caretaker head coach.
He is also being forced to take a back seat because of his acceptance of the Lions head coach job for next year’s tour of Australia and will not be involved for Wales’ forthcoming Six Nations defence.
But he is back in charge for the moment, at least for Saturday’s daunting challenge against the All Blacks and next week’s showdown with Australia.
And the 49-year-old was in philosophical mood yesterday as he talked about his nasty fall last Easter.
"I knew I’d done some damage. It was a reminder how quickly things can change," he said.
"The eight months prior to the accident had seen a great World Cup and a Grand Slam, then you are cleaning windows at the beach and fall off.
"You think that if things had gone bad I could have lost my leg. Fortunately, things have been good. It just shows you how quickly things can change and how important it is to keep things in perspective."
Gatland, who has led Wales to two Grand Slams and a World Cup semi-final since taking over in 2007, added: "About six weeks ago I had a bit of an infection that needed to be tidied up.
"I was lucky enough to be over here. The care that I’ve had here has been absolutely outstanding.
"Having access to a world-class surgeons and a plastic surgeon has hopefully helped. In a few weeks, hopefully I’ll be all right.
"It shows you how quickly things can change. We’ve had a couple of things that have happened this week, with Neil Jenkins’ dad dying – that put things into perspective."
Wales kicking coach Jenkins’ father Roger, from Church Village, Pontypridd, has died at the age of 62 following a battle with cancer.
Gatland has made five changes to the side defeated 26-19 by Samoa on Friday night to face New Zealand this Saturday.
Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies returns from a groin injury to replace Ashley Beck and is reunited with his 2012 Grand Slam partner Jamie Roberts.
Captain Sam Warburton comes back at openside flanker at the expense of Justin Tipuric, while former Newport Gwent Dragons lock Luke Charteris replaces the injured Ian Evans (knee).
Matthew Rees steps in at hooker for Richard Hibbard (shoulder), Rhys Priestland takes over at outside half from Dan Biggar (also shoulder) and James Hook makes the bench this time as cover.