CHRIS KIRWAN: Gatland under pressure as 'group of death' looms

South Wales Argus: THE BOSS: Wales head coach Warren Gatland THE BOSS: Wales head coach Warren Gatland

IT proved to be an expensive mistake when the Football Association agreed a fresh, lucrative deal with Fabio Capello on the eve of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The tournament proved to be a disaster of joyless football for England but there was no chance of the Italian, who was on £6million a year, walking away. He lasted two more years before quitting because John Terry was stripped of the captaincy.

Hopefully Welsh rugby will not experience similar frustrations.

Last December Warren Gatland penned a fresh contract with the WRU that should see him leading the national side until the end of the 2019 World Cup.

The New Zealander has done a fine job with Wales, winning three grand slams and a Six Nations title, and was also at the helm last summer when the British and Irish Lions ended their 16-year series drought.

But at the moment he must be cursing that extra autumn international in 2012; a Test that brought in much-needed money but could prove to be extremely costly in the long-term.

Kurtley Beale's last gasp try saw Wales drop out of the top eight of the IRB rankings and resulted in a nightmare World Cup draw that pits them against hosts England and bogey team Australia.

At the moment you would put money on a repeat of Wales' 2007 failure to get out of their group, and that calamity led to Gareth Jenkins being shown the door.

If the last eight doesn't feature Wales next year then the WRU bosses will have a decision to make, regardless of Gatland's track record.

Because there are signs of things going a little stale and the pressure is building thanks to 23 successive defeats to southern hemisphere big guns since Gatland beat the Aussies in his first encounter with a Sanzar team.

The 2013/14 season has been a shocker for Wales containing traditional autumn defeats to South Africa and the Wallabies and demoralising heavy away losses to Ireland, England and the Springboks. Cardiff wins against Italy, an awful France and 14-man Scotland did little to fill the heart with joy.

Questions about the style of rugby remain and the balance of the side doesn't look right (injuries are no excuse as every nation can point out absentees).

While others are evolving, Wales are regressing, stuck with a power game that has continuously failed to claim big scalps while their defence is no longer as watertight as it once was.

It would be a monumental shock if they win on South African soil for the first time in Nelspruit on Saturday while the autumn opposition is the Aussies, All Blacks and 'Boks along with Fiji.

Four more defeats would give more credence to the argument that Gatland is nearing the end of his shelf life with Wales and prompt demands for a fresh voice or two behind the scenes after enjoying great success with Shaun Edwards, Rob Howley, Robin McBryde and Neil Jenkins.

One reason for the fresh deal may have been the lack of an alternative but Gatland desperately needs to turn things around.

At the moment it is unthinkable that the Wales boss, who was named coach of 2013 at the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year, will be given the boot.

But if Wales' World Cup is over before the knockout stages then he will be vulnerable, regardless of how long is left on his contract.

Jenkins, Eddie O'Sullivan and Andy Robinson will tell him the perils of a group-stage disaster.

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