Warren Gatland said it would break his heart if Wales go “back into the doldrums” after his long reign ended with a 40-17 defeat to New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup bronze final.
Gatland will return to his native New Zealand to take charge of the Chiefs after spending 12 years as head coach of the Six Nations Grand Slam champions.
But it was the All Blacks who gave their own outgoing head coach, Steve Hansen, a victory in his final match at the helm in the third-place play-off at Tokyo Stadium on Friday.
Gatland departs as Wales’ greatest coach, and the British and Irish Lions boss is desperate for his replacement Wayne Pivac to be successful in a new era.
Asked about his emotions during his Wales swansong, Gatland said: “It’s something I’d prepared myself for and then you start thinking about the next challenges in life.
“I really hope, for what we have achieved in the last 10 or 12 years, we have earned respect and put some respect back into Wales as an international team and the new coaches come in and continue to build on that.
“Because I think, [with] what we’ve achieved, it would break my heart if Wales went back into the doldrums.”
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) November 1, 2019
He added: “There is an opportunity for the new group to come in and build on what we’ve created and improve on that.
“You know how tough it is to win a Six Nations. It’s not to be greedy and expect to win it every year, but it’s going and performing well in the Six Nations and continuing to get a few Six Nations titles along the way and make sure we are as competitive as we can be against the other top nations.
“I think we have been, and I want Wales to continue to build on that.”
Gatland felt the challenge of facing the All Blacks just five days after a semi-final loss to South Africa was a lot to ask for his injury-hit squad.
“It was obvious to me, just watching the first half, that five-day turnaround after having played South Africa – and losing four players in that game – some players definitely struggled with the quick turnaround.” said the 56-year-old.
“But I thought the bench gave us impetus when they came on, it was good and I’m pleased with that. But no complaints about the result, I thought the All Blacks deserved to win.”
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