IT APPEARS that Warren Gatland has escaped scot-free for Wales’ woes over the past fortnight.

The returning hero has ridden into the Vale of Glamorgan headquarters on his trusty steed, ready to sort out the mess of the first two autumn Tests.

But his fingerprints are still all over the scene of the crime.

Sure, interim boss Rob Howley hasn’t covered himself in glory while covering for Gatland.

But the notion that the New Zealander, who has been on Lions scouting duty, can be absolved of the blame is farcical.

This is his Wales set-up and this is his game plan. He may not have been in the stands but he was signing everything off and playing a major part in selection decisions.

After the Argentina defeat one paper made reference to it being like schoolchildren misbehaving while a cover teacher is in charge of the class.

But to allow Gatland to escape unscathed is akin to a headteacher letting his staff cop all the flak for a poor Ofsted report.

The New Zealander sets the tone for Team Wales and has put the structure in place where Howley and Shaun Edwards are responsible for the attack and defence respectively.

That those areas have been shaky this autumn should not excuse Gatland simply because he was not been permanently on site.

Yet, much like injured tighthead Adam Jones, his reputation has soared in his absence.

Wales will benefit from Gatland being back with them in their final two Tests, but the ‘messiah’ should not be exempt from criticism about what has gone before.

He has nothing to lose against the All Blacks, who should ease to yet another autumn clean sweep, but he won’t be able to shrug off a lose to the Australians on December 1 quite so easily.