COACH of the year Warren Gatland insists Wales’ stunning Six Nations victory over England was better than leading the Lions to an historic series win Down Under.
The Wales and British and Irish Lions chief added a Wales Sports Awards trophy to his UK Coaching Awards prize on Monday night after a stellar 2013.
Gatland was honoured for masterminding the first Lions series win for 16 years but for him watching Wales blow away the old enemy England to seal a second successive Six Nations title in March topped anything he experienced in Australia this summer.
“Wales beating England was the highlight,” he said. “The Lions was pretty special but I was sat in the Millennium Stadium that day.
“It was a great performance from the boys, ably led by Rob (Howley) and an amazing atmosphere. It was something I haven’t experienced before as a coach.
“I got more of a buzz out of that as a supporter and as a coach than if I’d been in charge that day.
“I knew the pressure Rob was under, particularly after the first game against Ireland, so to come out and scrape through a few games, build that momentum and then have that performance at the end of the tournament was testament to the players and the coaches.”
After a disappointing Autumn series with defeats to South Africa and Australia, Gatland is already looking ahead to the defence to the Six Nations title and a chance to rewrite the record books.
“In 2014 the Six Nations is an opportunity for us to create history if we can repeat the success of the last two years and win it three years in a row,” said Gatland.
“It was done in the 1800s and we’ve spoken about it as an aim of ours to make history.
“For a small nation like Wales to do a ‘threepeat’ would be some achievement.”
Gatland is also keen to lead the Lions to his native New Zealand in 2017 but he knows that he must be successful with Wales first and he believes Wales have a realistic chance of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in 2015.
“We felt after 2011 we left there disappointed,” said Gatland after the semi-final defeat to France following the dismissal of captain Sam Warburton.
“We felt like we didn’t really have the opportunity with the sending off and we were left pretty unfulfilled.
“But Wales traditionally do well in World Cups and we feel that with games in Cardiff and Twickenham, we’ve had success there in the past and we’re looking forward to it.
“A lot of times people go into the tournament saying ‘we’re good enough to win the World Cup’ and sometimes the bottom line is that people don’t believe it.
“But I think with the players we’ve got if we get a break or two this team is capable of winning the World Cup.
“We have our limitations,” he added. “We can’t afford to pick up too many injuries and we need to close that gap (to the southern hemisphere) because we’re not quite there but with another couple of years together and if we can get out of the pool of death with England and Australia then we have a chance.”