A PHOTO of the England football team from 2004 often appears online with the question, "How did this team not win anything?".

Lined up are defenders Gary Neville, Ashley Cole, John Terry and Sol Campbell, who protected goalkeeper David James. In midfield were David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Steve Gerrard and Frank Lampard with Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen up front.

A talented bunch, most of whom would be candidates for their country's all-time XI, but who fell short when it came to international silverware.

Given that the Six Nations trophy currently sits in a cabinet at Principality Stadium, that is an accusation that could never be levelled at Warren Gatland's Wales.

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Since replacing Gareth Jenkins in 2007 he has led the country to three Grand Slams.

However, one can't help but shake the feeling that there could have been even more, especially on the biggest stage of the World Cup given the talent at his disposal.

Like the England team at the start of the millennium, Gatland has worked with, and nurtured it must be said, a golden generation.

Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Davies, Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton, Gethin Jenkins, George North, Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts, Justin Tipuric, Adam Jones, Ken Owens. Just some of the individuals from the last 12 years that could be considered as all-time Wales XV contenders.

With such talent through the years is Gatland's belief that Wales have "punched massively above our weight" really valid?

There are no doubts that the Gatland era has been a huge success and the New Zealander has transformed the reputation of the Wales team and the mindset of its players.

Yet his reign is filled with plenty of regrets to go along with the trophies; such is the way in sport and even Graham Henry, Clive Woodward and Steve Hansen will have memories that gnaw away at them.

For Gatland it will be the three World Cup displays, with two semi-finals either side of a last-eight appearance.

In 2015 it was perhaps a blessing that Wales were knocked out by Fourie du Preez's late score at Twickenham – a patched-up side would have been hammered by New Zealand in the semis.

However, this year and in his first tournament, Gatland's men fell agonisingly short of a first final when it was within reach.

After France in 2011 the frustration led to the finger of blame being pointed at referee Alain Rolland for (rightly) dismissing Sam Warburton.

Even with 14 men Wales could easily have triumphed (why didn't Mike Phillips get closer to the posts for Stephen Jones?) against Les Bleus, who were left with their own 'if only' moments after being pipped by New Zealand in the final.

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This year there was frustration at the defeat to South Africa when Wales opted to back themselves in a slugfest.

It was a tactic that nearly paid off but nearly wasn't good enough, leaving many to ponder if Gatland & Co had shown enough ambition, enterprise and invention.

The plotting and preparation, hard training and rotating to build depth all denied by one Francois Louw breakdown penalty and another mauling offence.

The head coach has great pride in his record in the big games, and that certainly rings true in Europe when more often than not he has taken the spoils in Six Nations tussles.

But in 2011 the brilliant Ireland quarter-final win was sandwiched by losses to South Africa and France.

In 2015 the England upset was followed by a costly loss to Australia and another Springboks defeat.

This year Wales produced the goods in tense wins against the Wallabies and France before they were on the wrong side of a tight encounter last Sunday.

Gatland's men won the four Tests between Twickenham and Yokohama, but not the one that mattered.

It means that a squad that went to Japan as genuine contenders to lift the trophy on Saturday will instead be watching on television after a par finish of the last four.

It's possible to have pride at what they have achieved along with frustration that they failed to take that extra step, though perhaps that in itself is a sign of the job that Gatland has done since Fiji in Nantes.

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Now it will be Wayne Pivac charged with changing the script in France after two World Cups when Wales have exited with heads held high but with their bodies bruised and battered.

The new Kiwi in the hotseat will probably have a bit of relief that, unlike David Moyes at Manchester United, he isn't charged with taking over a champion team, and he will certainly be relieved that he takes over a team filled with talented players who have their best years ahead of them.

The core of this squad will be around in 2023 and is up to the next generation to become titans like Alun Wyn Jones and Jonathan Davies.

The four regions – who always seem to get a kicking – will keep producing talent for Pivac to pick from and promote.

Gatland's reign may have ended in a huge World Cup disappointment but the head coach and his assistants have left things in good shape for the next management team.

Players often state the importance of leaving the jersey in a better place. Gatland has certainly done that with the management blazer.