Oval Talk

Gatland comments terrible timing for Wales and Lions

A swift response and attempt to put the issue to bed may have been forthcoming, but by the time Warren Gatland had attempted to clarify the context in which comments over his future had been made it was already too late.

A website in the Wales coach's native New Zealand — stuff.co.nz — printed quotes from the 48-year-old where he discussed a potential return to his homeland after the 2011 World Cup, despite being contracted to the WRU until the completion of the 2015 RWC.

"I nearly made the decision after the World Cup [to return to New Zealand] and it was a toss of the coin. I was going to come back and I had been offered the Chiefs job and New Zealand made me an offer of a contract," he said.

"I went back to New Zealand and I said to them: 'Look, it's not about the money but I am finding it a little bit difficult to accept the contract, is there a chance of any movement on it?'

"[I told them] 'Well, you have offered me less money than I was on in 2007 when I was coaching Waikato and was involved with the Chiefs, to coach the Chiefs in 2012.'

"They just said: 'Things are tight at the moment, the economy is not great' and they said 'that's the best we can do, take it or leave it.'

"If they had moved 10 or 15 thousand I would have said 'okay, that's great . . . you've moved a little bit' and I would have taken the Chiefs job and [instead] they just said 'take it or leave it' and I said 'thanks very much, I'll leave it'. So that's what happened."

It doesn't make for pretty reading for either Gatland or the WRU, but the defence put forward by Gatland was that the quotes were taken from 'informal conversations' he had when visiting New Zealand. The WRU were also quick to put out a statement which attempted to defuse and put to bed the issue.

"I am totally loyal and fully committed to my role with Wales, and to say otherwise is ridiculous," Gatland told Walesonline late last week as the recovery mission kicked in.

"These remarks have come from a visit I paid to the university and from conversations I had informally when I tried to be as honest as possible. It wasn't an interview situation and it's frustrating the way this has been portrayed.

"I am with Wales and completely committed moving forward. If I wasn't committed do people seriously think I would stay for so long on the other side of the world from my family? This has all been taken out of context and become a bit misinterpreted. It really shouldn't be an issue."

The point made by Gatland is a fair one. Off the record means something should never be put in the public domain, but the timing of this could not be any worse in the same week that Gatland's appointment as the 2013 Lions head coach was said to be imminent.

The fact that money was such a heavily featured topic in the comments which slipped out will also be something that many will find a less than palatable aspect.

Wales fans, grateful for what Gatland has achieved, will also look at the fact that he has been out of action since April and that he is about to embark on a project with the Lions that will require a great deal of his attention.

With Rob Howley impressing in his interim period in charge, surely the former international's prospect for a full-time role can only have been strengthened further by this latest unfortunate episode.