Warren Gatland is back - and Wales are better for it
WARREN Gatland has revealed he could have lost a leg after his horrendous beach-house fall back home in New Zealand.
Wales's head coach suffered multiple fractures to both his heels after plunging to the ground while cleaning windows at his property in the Bay of Plenty.
Seven months on, he is starting to walk without crutches.
But he required a skin graft after an infection six weeks ago and he told yesterday how at one point there was the possibility that he could have needed an amputation.
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"I knew I'd done some damage when I fell," he said at Wales's media call ahead of the game with New Zealand on Saturday.
"It was a reminder of how quickly things can change. 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 you fall off.
"You think that if things had gone badly I could have lost a leg.
"Fortunately, things have been good.
"About six weeks ago I did have a bit of an infection that needed to be tidied up. I was lucky enough to be over here, and the care I've had has been absolutely outstanding. Having access to world-class surgeons and a plastic surgeon has hopefully helped.
"I'm off the crutches now, so it's getting better, and I'm learning to walk again.
"In another three or four weeks, I hope to be back in a shoe and running around — not cleaning windows, though."
The episode caused Gatland to join Wales's summer tour of Australia late and have only a watching brief behind Rob Howley.
But he has received immense support from those close to him, reaffirming his belief in the importance of family and carrying that through into a rugby context as well.
"What happened to be me shows how important it is to keep things in perspective," he said.
"A few things that have happened this week have done that. Neil Jenkins's dad passed away, our performance analyst Rhys Long's wife had a baby who is in intensive care and Dan Biggar's mother is very ill as well.
"One of the values I have with this team is that your family comes first. Players and coaches get well paid, but, for me, the philosophy of family first is very, very important.
"We've reiterated that to the squad.
"It's about trying to create a family environment. Hopefully, we can produce a performance at the weekend."
Gatland returned to work on Monday and greeted members of his coaching team by holding his hands in the air and saying: "The Messiah is back."
"They told me to p*** off," he laughed. "That was exactly the response I wanted."
Presumably, he wasn't too bothered, either, at the stinging criticism that has been meted out after the defeats by Argentina and Samoa, with former national captain Gareth Thomas saying there had been a "pure lack of effort" from some players against the islanders.
Against New Zealand, Wales will not be burdened by expectation after their ineptitude over the past fortnight.
But Gatland is hoping for a response to the criticism. "Absolultely," he said when asked that question.
"Gareth is entitled to his views. He's had 100 caps for Wales and he can say whatever he likes.
"We've had a couple of tough weeks but we are not as poor as we've appeared. It's been disappointing and the boys recognise as much, which is the sign of a side that can improve and grow.
"Hopefully, we'll go out on Saturday and produce a performance that people will be proud of."
Welcoming back the "world-class" Jonathan Davies and choosing Paul James ahead of Gethin Jenkins at loose-head prop, Gatland said players had to believe in themselves.
"I think there have been times in the past when Welsh teams have lost games even before they have taken the field," he added.
"One of the things I have never lacked is self-belief.
"If players don't think they are capable of winning they shouldn't even be contemplating taking the field."
Gatland is back. And Wales are better for it.