England by contrast had defied the odds, put themselves back in one piece after the 36-0 pool plastering by the Springboks in Paris and gone all the way to the final.
The RFU may have been ominously tardy over Brian Ashton's reappointment as head coach but the players at his disposal still included several who had been to the mountain top in Sydney five years earlier and seen the promised land as World Cup winners - men like Phil Vickery, Mike Tindall, Iain Balshaw, Ben Kay, Simon Shaw and Jonny Wilkinson.
At the start of that 2008 Six Nations, nobody could have envisaged Wales ending it with a Grand Slam. For all his success at HQ with Wasps, Gatland would probably have had the chronic Welsh failure to win there over the previous 20 years in mind when he spoke pre-match of his anxiety.
At half-time, his words had a horribly prophetic ring to them from a Welsh perspective considering that his team would have been down and out at 21-6 with a conversion to come but for the frantic scramble which prevented Paul Sackey squeezing in at the south-west corner.
Four years on and the role-reversal could hardly be more pronounced. Current form suggests that all the twitchiness, nervousness and apprehension will be felt by England.
Not since the Seventies have Wales gone to Twickenham as such overwhelming favourites. And yet only two of the starting XV from four years ago will be reappearing on Saturday - Adam Jones at tighthead and Alun-Wyn Jones, restored to the second row for the first time since a toe operation last November.
While Wales expect to keep going onwards and upwards, Ireland captain Paul O'Connell will demand nothing less than a win over Italy in Dublin. The Irish, given more time by the Paris postponement to iron out the flaws in their game against Wales, are aiming for their 13th straight win over Italy since the Five became Six in 2000.
The six wins in Dublin have come at an average of 18 points per game although only a try separated the teams when Italy lost 16-11 at Croke Park four years ago. Yet before their admission to the championship they had beaten Ireland three times in a row, most recently in Bologna in 1997.
Sunday brings Scotland back to another full-house against France at Murrayfield with the hope that recent history will repeat itself, the Scots' solitary Six Nations win over the World Cup finalists having come on a Sunday six years ago.
For Philippe Saint-Andre, the first match since the four-try home win over Italy three weeks ago marks the start of four games in four weeks.
Five England-Wales matches at Twickenham:
January 21, 1933: England 3, Wales 7.
After 20 years of trying, Wales achieved their first Twickenham win at the tenth attempt with a team which included a future England cricketer at scrum-half, Maurice Turnbull, and a schoolboy centre, Wilf Wooller, who would become an England cricket selector. A record crowd of 64,000 saw Cardiff wing Ronnie Boon account for every Welsh point with a try and drop goal.
England: T Brown (Bristol); L Booth (Headingley), D Burland (Bristol), R Gerrard (Bath), C Aarvold (Blackheath, capt); W Elliot (United Services), A Key (Old Cranleighans); N Evans (Royal Navy), G Gregory (Bristol), R Longland (Northampton), C Webb (Devonport Services), A Roncoroni (Richmond), A Vaughan-Jones (Army), B Black (Blackheath), R Bolton (Wakefield).
Wales: V Jenkins (Bridgend); R Boon (Cardiff), C Davey (Swansea), W Wooller (Rydal School), A Jones (Cardiff); H Bowcott (London Welsh), M Turnbull (Cardiff); E Jones (Llanelli), B Evans (Llanelli), A Skym (Cardiff), R Jones (Cambridge University), D Thomas (Swansea), T Arthur (Neath), W Thomas (Swansea, capt), I Isaacs (Cardiff).
January 17, 1976: England 9, Wales 21
There were times when JPR Williams rampaged around Twickenham as though he owned the place and never more so than in this match. He scored two of his team's three tries at the start of a season which brought Wales a Grand Slam.
England: A Hignell (Cambridge Univ); P Squires (Harrogate), A Maxwell (Headingley), D Cooke (Harlequins),D Duckham (Coventry); M Cooper (Moseley), M Lampkowski (Headingley); F Cotton (Sale), P Wheeler (Leicester), M Burton (Gloucester); B Beaumont (Fylde), R Wilkinson (Bedford); M Keyworth (Swansea),A Ripley(Rosslyn Park), A Neary (Broughton Park, capt). Replacement: P Preece (Coventry) for Squires.
Wales: JPR Williams (Bridgend); G Davies (Cardiff), S Fenwick (Bridgend), R Gravell (Llanelli), JJ Williams (Llanelli); P Bennett (Llanelli), G Edwards (Cardiff); A Faulkner (Pontypool), B Windsor (Pontypool), G Price (Pontypool); A Martin (Aberavon), G Wheel (Swansea); T Cobner (Pontypool), M Davies (Swansea, capt), T Evans (Swansea).
February 16, 1980: England 9, Wales 8
A foul match resulted in the earliest of baths for Wales flanker Paul Ringer, sent off after 14 minutes by Irish referee David Burnett for one of the lesser offences. Wales' 14-men scored both the game's tries and led 8-6 until Dusty Hare nailed the ultimate in pressure kicks five minutes from time.
England: D Hare (Leicester); J Carleton (Orrell), C Woodward (Leicester), P Dodge (Leicester), M Slemen (Liverpool); J Horton (Bath), S Smith (Sale); F Cotton (Sale), P Wheeler (Leicester), P Blakeway (Gloucester); B Beaumont (Fylde, capt), M Colclough (Angouleme); R Uttley (Wasps), J Scott (Cardiff), A Neary (Broughton Park). Replacement: M Rafter (Bristol) for Uttley.
Wales: R Blyth (Swansea); E Rees (Neath), D Richards (Swansea), S Fenwick (Bridgend), L Keen (Aberavon); G Davies (Cardiff), T Holmes (Cardiff); C Williams (Swansea), A Phillips (Cardiff), G Price (Pontypool); A Martin (Aberavon), G Wheel (Swansea); P Ringer (Llanelli), E Butler (Pontypool), J Squire (Pontypool, capt).
February 21, 1998: England 60 Wales 26
England responded to conceding two early tries with eight of their own in this the last Five Nations match between the countries at Twickenham. By the end of it, Lawrence Dallaglio's rampant team had torn up the record book. Not for nothing did Wales captain Rob Howley refer to it as the worst week of his rugby life.
England: M Perry (Bath); D Rees (Sale), W Greenwood (Leicester), J Guscott (Bath), A Healey (Leicester); P Grayson (Northampton), K Bracken (Saracens); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), P Vickery (Gloucester); M Johnson (Leicester), G Archer (Newcastle); L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), R Hill (Saracens), N Back (Leicester).
Replacements used: D Grewcock (Saracens), D Garforth (Leicester), A Diprose (Saracens), M Catt (Bath), P de Glanville (Bath), M Dawson (Northampton)
Wales: N Jenkins (Pontypridd); G Thomas (Bridgend), A Bateman (Richmond), S Gibbs (Swansea), N Walker (Cardiff); A Thomas (Swansea), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); A Lewis (Cardiff), B Williams (Richmond), D Young (Swansea); G Llewellyn (Harlequins), M Voyle (Llanelli); C Charvis (Swansea), S Quinnell (Richmond), M Williams (Pontypridd).
Replacements used: W Proctor (Llanelli), R Appleyard (Swansea), L Davies (Cardiff), J Humphreys (Cardiff), C Stephens (Bridgend), L Mustoe (Cardiff).
February 2, 2008: England 19, Wales 26
England, so badly hamstrung by injuries that Leicester lock Ben Kay packed down as an emergency flanker and Mike Tindall finished up in hospital with liver damage, led 19-6 with almost an hour gone. After scoring two converted tries in a four-minute spell, Wales were never in danger of losing.
England: I Balshaw (Gloucester); P Sackey (Wasps), M Tindall (Gloucester), T Flood (Newcastle), D Strettle (Harlequins); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), A Gomarsall (Harlequins); A Sheridan (Sale), M Regan (Bristol), P Vickery (Wasps), capt; S Shaw (Wasps), S Borthwick (Bath) ; J Haskell (Wasps), L Narraway (Gloucester), L Moody (Leicester). Replacements: L Vainikolo (Gloucester), T Rees (Wasps), B Kay (Leicester), L Mears (Bath), D Cipriani (Wasps), M Stevens (Bath).
Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); M Jones (Scarlets), S Parker (Ospreys), G Henson (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); J Hook (Ospreys), M Phillips (Ospreys); D Jones (Ospreys), H Bennett (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys); I Gough (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys); J Thomas (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys), capt., M Williams (Blues). Substitutes used: A Popham (Scarlets), G Jenkins (Blues), T Shanklin (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), I Evans (Ospreys).
Four of the best from Scotland-France at Murrayfield:
March 17, 1984: Scotland 21, France 12
A double-edged Grand Slam decider between two unbeaten teams went Scotland's way after a suitably tense finale. With the match in the balance at 12-12, Jim Calder's historic try proved decisive on a day when Peter Dods punished recurring French indiscipline with five penalties.
Scotland: P Dods (Gala); J Pollock (Gosforth),K Robertson (Melrose), D Johnston (Watsonians), R Baird (Kelso); J Rutherford (Selkirk), R Laidlaw (Jedforest); J Aitken (Gala, capt), C Deans (Hawick), I Milne (Harlequins); A Campbell (Hawick), A Tomes (Hawick); J Calder (Stewart's-Melville FP), I Paxton (Selkirk), D Leslie (Gala).
France: S Blanco (Biarritz); J Begu (Dax), P Sella (Agen), D Codorniou (Narbonne), P Esteve (Narbonne); J-P Lescarboura (Dax), J Gallion (Toulon); D Dubroca (Agen), P Dintrans (Tarbes), P Dospital (Bayonne); F Haget (Biarritz), J Condom (Boucau); J-L Joinel (Brive), J-C Orso (Nice), J-P Rives (Racing).
January 17, 1986: Scotland 18, France 17
Gavin Hastings over-hit the kick-off into the dead-ball area whereupon Pierre Berbizier introduced him to the harsh realities of Test rugby. With the Scottish forwards preparing for a scrum on halfway, the French scrum-half took a quick throw instead and strolled over for a try in the corner. Hastings, on debut with brother Scott, had the last word with six penalties.
Scotland: G Hastings (London Scottish); M Duncan (West of Scotland), S Hastings (Watsonians), D Johnston (Watsonians), R Baird (Kelso); J Rutherford (Selkirk), R Laidlaw (Jedforest); D Sole (Bath), C Deans (Hawick, capt), I Milne (Harlequins); A Campbell (Hawick), J Campbell-Lamerton (London Scottish); F Calder (Stewart's-Melville FP), J Jeffrey (Kelso), J Beattie (Glasgow Academicals).
France: S Blanco (Biarritz); J-B Lafond (Racing), P Sella (Agen), P Chadebech (Brive), P Esteve (Narbonne); G Laporte (Graulhet), P Berbizier (Agen); P Marocco (Montferrand), D Dubroca (Agen, capt), J-P Gauret (Loures); F Haget (Biarritz), J Condom (Boucau); J Gratton (Agen), D Erbani (Agen), J-L Joinel (Brive
February 21, 1998: Scotland 16, France 51.
France under Rafael Ibanez let rip en route to the most convincing of Grand Slams. Olivier Magne reigned supreme from start to finish as Scotland conceded seven tries on a ground where Les Bleus had won just once in the previous 20 years. They would finish the championship by hitting Wales with another 51-point avalanche, this time without reply.
Scotland: D Lee (London Scottish); T Stanger (Hawick), A Tait (Newcastle), G Townsend (Northampton), K Logan (Wasps); C Chalmers (Melsore), G Armstrong (Newcastle, capt); D Hilton (Bath), G Bulloch (West of Scotland), M Stewart (Northampton); D Cronin (Wasps), D Weir (Newcastle); R Wainwright (Dundee HSFP), P Walton (Newcastle), S Holmes (London Scottish)
Replacements used: S Grimes (Watsonians), G Graham (Newcastle), A Roxburgh (Kelso), S Longstaff (Dundee HSFP).
France:J_L Sadourny (Colomiers); P Bernat-Salles (Pau), C Lamaison (Brive), S Glas (Bourgoin), C Dominici (/Stade Francais); T Castaignede (Castres), P Carbonneau (Brive); C Califano (Toulouse), R Ibanez (Dax, capt), F Tournaire (Narbonne); O Brouzet (Begles-Bordeaux), F Pelous (Dax); M Lievremont (Stade Frances), T Lievremont (Perpignan), O Magne (Brive).
Replacements used: D Aucagne (Pau), P Benetton (Agen), C Soulette (Beziers), T Cleda (Pau).
February 5, 2006: Scotland 20, France 16
Two Sean Lamont tries and four Chris Paterson goals gave the Scots, under Frank Hadden, a win which might have been of record proportion at one stage. Seventeen points behind with half an hour left, the French came back with two tries only for Jean-Baptiste Elissalde's missed conversions to make all the difference.
Scotland: H Southwell (Edinburgh); C Paterson (Edinburgh), M di Rollo (Edinburgh), A Henderson (Glasgow), S Lamont (Northampton); D Parks (Glasgow), M Blair (Edinburgh); G Kerr (Leeds), D Hall (Edinburgh), B Douglas (Borders); A Kellock (Glasgow), S Murray (Edinburgh); J White (Sale), capt., S Taylor (Edinburgh), A Hogg (Edinburgh). Substitutes used: S Webster (Northampton), S Lawson (Glasgow), C Smith (Edinburgh), C Cusiter (Borders), G Ross (Leeds), J Petrie (Glasgow), S Macleod (Scarlets).
France: N Brusque (Biarritz); C Heymans (Toulouse), F Fritz (Toulouse), L Valbon (Brive), C Dominici (Stade Francais); F Michalak (Toulouse), J-B Elissalde (Toulouse); S Marconnet (Stade Francais), D Szarzewski (Stade Francais), P de Villiers (Stade Francais); F Pelous (Toulouse), capt, J Thion (Biarritz); Y Nyanga (Toulouse), J Bonnaire (Bourgoin), R Martin (Stade Francais). Replacements used: S Bruno (Sale), O Milloud (Bourgoin), T Lievremont (Biarritz), G Bousses (Bourgoin), D Yachvili (Biarritz).