Warren Gatland says he is putting his reputation on the line by replacing Wayne Pivac to become Wales coach for a second time.
Gatland is Wales’ most successful and longest-serving coach, having won three Grand Slams during his previous reign.
When asked if his legacy was threatened, Gatland responded: “That’s the exciting thing about it, isn’t it?
“If you’re a flop and fail… I’m under no illusions what the expectations are in the next 10 months.”
Gatland also guided Wales to the semi-finals of the 2011 and 2019 World Cups during his first stint as Wales coach, which lasted 12 years.
In his final season, Wales reached the top of World Rugby’s rankings thanks to a 14-match unbeaten run.
Now after a “whirlwind 72 hours”, he finds himself taking over a team that have won three of 12 games in 2022 and have lost at home to Italy and Georgia in the last year.
“I’ve always loved the challenge, I’ve always loved going into environments where there are expectations and hopefully exceeding those expectations,” added Gatland.
“That’s part of professional sport, there are ups and downs. You live by your results and performances.
“I’m excited about it but there are pressures and risks. I’m confident I can come in and hopefully make a difference and get a side together who are proud to put that jersey on, and when they go out there and represent Wales in front of home fans they’re prepared to die for that jersey.
“Those are my expectations and I don’t expect anything less from the players in terms of what it means to play for Wales – the history, the expectation.
“If we can achieve that in a short period of time, I think that will give us the best opportunity to be successful.”
Gatland first took charge of Wales in 2007, when they were at a low ebb having gone out of the World Cup at the pool stage following defeat by Fiji. Within six months, he delivered a Grand Slam.
But on this occasion, after departing the Super Rugby side Chiefs to return to Wales before Christmas, Gatland has only 10 months until the 2023 World Cup in France.
“The advantage I’ve got is I know the set-up and so many of the people involved,” added Gatland.
“I can hit the ground running. Obviously there’s a new group of players. There’s a process I’ve got to go through over the next few weeks and just getting a real feel for the place again, so it’s like 2007-2008 and coming in completely cold.
“That’s a massive advantage I’ve got in terms of knowing Wales and the set-up. I can come in and hopefully be seamless in stepping into the role.”
The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) say Gatland could be involved with Wales after the 2023 World Cup, possibly up until 2027.
On his long-term future, Gatland added: “At the moment my immediate focus is between now and the World Cup, and afterwards it’s myself and Steve Phillips [WRU chief executive] talking about possibilities going forward.
“During that 10 months we’ve got to be showing we’ve made progress and we’ve been successful, and then potentially other opportunities arise from that.
“That’s how we are at the moment. There’s no certainty but I’m comfortable with that, so if the next 10 months is not successful then you are involved in professional sport and know what the consequences are.
“I’m comfortable and confident that I can come in and make a difference, and create an environment we can be successful in. If that happens then potentially other discussions may take place.
“But I’m not looking past the next 10 months, I’m not looking past France.”
England approach and backroom staff
When asked about potentially choosing Wales over England after being touted as a contender to replace Eddie Jones, Gatland added: “I’m only here to speak about Wales, but what I can say is, don’t believe everything you read in newspapers.”
Stephen Jones, Jonathan Humphreys, Gethin Jenkins and Neil Jenkins were part of Pivac’s backroom staff, which Gatland says he will assess.
“To be honest I haven’t really considered that, it’s kind of been such a whirlwind in the last 72 hours,” he said.
“I need to talk to people. I need to get the lay of the land on how things are there within the set-up and then I’ll make the appropriate decisions about what happens going forward.”
Rob Howley has been linked with a return after working with Gatland in his first stint in charge before being sent home before the 2019 World Cup after admitting to betting offences.
When specifically asked about Howley, Gatland added: “I haven’t made any decisions on what the set-up looks like in terms of the coaching set-up.
“I haven’t even got that far in terms of going through that process.
“It’s been fairly full-on in terms of having those discussions with Steve [Phillips] and Ieuan [Evans, WRU chairman] and talking to family and stuff about making this decision.
“From now on that’s where this work takes place in terms of making sure I get things right, in terms of the set-up and the people involved.”
Pivac’s three-year tenure saw Wales slip to ninth in the world rankings, having won 13 games, lost 20 and drawn one. But Gatland praised the conduct of his fellow New Zealander.
“I want to recognise the human side to this with Wayne departing,” added Gatland.
“That must have been tough, so my thoughts go out to him and his family and it’s important I do recognise that. He is a good man with some good values and I just wanted to mention that.”