New Zealander Warren Gatland, who guided Wales as their head coach to his second Grand Slam in this season’s Six Nations tournament, has a job waiting for him as the head man of the British and Irish Lions squad. The job is his should he want it, the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) has told reporters. The Lions are looking to bolster their chances in advance of their Australian tour in the coming year.
WRU chief executive Roger Lewis announced that Gatland is the hottest name in the game at the moment this weekend. Lewis said that talks have at least occurred between the two parties, though he denied that Gatland has accepted the gig as of yet.
“We have had informal discussions with the British and Irish Lions over the last few months,” explained Lewis to The Guardian, “and we have talked to Warren about this for the best part of a year. If the Lions approach us formally and ask us to free Warren from his contract for the Australia tour, we will negotiate the terms of his release with them. Warren does not have a clause in his contract which contains provision for him to coach the Lions, but we are hugely supportive of him and them.”
This public statement of support for a team’s coach leading another squad might seem like a folly, but it does include a bit of politics on Lewis’s side. Lewis is hoping to keep Gatland in the fold after a possible one-year run as the head man of the Lions.
“What I will say is that there is no question that Warren will not be leading Wales on our very important tour to Australia and I, personally, would like him to be involved in our autumn Tests against New Zealand and Australia in Cardiff,” said Lewis. “This is all for the future as we have had no formal approach from the Lions yet and my understanding is that no decision about the head coach will be announced until the beginning of May.”
The leadership of the Lions has already put it out that they want a coach on a yearlong contract in order to allow the new chief to focus on the content and quality of the team for its next domestic season. Gatland remains under contract through the end of the World Cup in 2015 with Wales, but will likely receive a one-year reprieve from his deal. That would mean current Gatland assistants Robin McBryde and Rob Howley would head the Welsh squad during its internationals this fall and the Six Nations tournament next year.
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