Gatland was born in Hamilton, New Zealand and educated at Hamilton Boys' High School and Waikato University. His first game as an All Black was in 1988, when he is said to have introduced a part-Australian Rules, part-Gaelic football game to the training sessions, which was well received by the other players.
Gatland became the record-holder of the most games for Waikato near the end of the 1994 season. He finished the season with 140 games under his belt and announced his retirement before the start of the 1995 season.
In light of his success at Connacht he was appointed coach of Ireland on 24 February 1998, following the resignation of former England coach Brian Ashton. Gatland's tenure as coach of Ireland was a difficult one, he had taken charge of a team that for several years previously had failed regularly to win more than one Six Nations fixture (up to 2000 and the inclusion of Italy it was called the Five Nations Championship) in each championship. Despite this he had a measure of success, marked by Ireland winning on 19th March 2000 in Paris against France for the first time since 1972, when a Brian O'Driscoll hat-trick of tries inspired Ireland to a 25-27 win, but a poor 1999 World Cup campaign in which they failed to make it to the finals after losing narrowly to Argentina in a play-off game by 24-28
Gatland's first game as coach of Wales in the opening week of the 2008 Six Nations Championship resulted in a historic victory, as Wales caused a major upset by defeating England 26-19 after trailing 19-6 with nearly sixty minutes played. It was Wales' first win at HQ since 1988. After victories over Scotland and Italy, Wales went on to defeat the Triple Crown holders Ireland in Croke Park 16-12, thus winning the Triple Crown themselves. In the final round of fixtures, Wales beat France at the Millennium Stadium 29-12, to clinch their 10th Grand Slam title, exactly 100 years after they won their first. A game in which Shane Williams score his 41st try in this game and became the all-time leading try scorer for Wales.
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