Gatland favoured for Lions job

2012-09-03 09:15
Warren Gatland (File)

London - Wales boss Warren Gatland is the overwhelming favourite to be named as coach of the British and Irish Lions when officials announce their choice on Tuesday for next year's tour of Australia.

The New Zealander has long been regarded as the front-runner for the job of coaching the Lions against the Wallabies, but a freak accident five months ago almost put him out of the running.

Gatland was back home in New Zealand in April, shortly after guiding Wales to the second Six Nations Grand Slam of his tenure, when a fall from a ladder at his beach house left him with two fractured heels.

But he is understood to have allayed concerns about his fitness when Lions officials visited him in New Zealand.

And during a function at Hamilton last month, Gatland said he was on the verge of signing up with the Lions, a team comprising the best players from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales who traditionally tour one of the southern hemisphere giants of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa every four years.

"We still haven't signed anything yet but it's very close, and if I do take the position I'll be seconded to the Lions for 10 months," Gatland was quoted as saying by Fairfax Media.

Former Test scrumhalf Rob Howley, Gatland's assistant in the Welsh set-up, is set to stand in, as he did when the Kiwi was injured for the national side's recent tour of Australia, when Wales face Samoa and Argentina at home in November, and for the defence of their Six Nations title in 2013.

"I won't coach the Samoa and Argentina weeks or be involved in the Six Nations," Gatland said. "I think that's trying to give the position some neutrality."

Gatland, who guided Wales to the semi-finals of last year's World Cup, would, if confirmed, be the second overseas coach to take charge of the Lions following fellow New Zealander Graham Henry's unsuccessful stint on their last visit to Australia in 2001 which saw them lose the Test series 2-1.

The 48-year-old Gatland does have Lions experience, however, having been forwards coach under Ian McGeechan during the 2009 series loss in South Africa.

By the time the Lions arrive in Australia, it will be 16 years since their last series win, against the Springboks in 1997, and joining the select band of victorious Lions supremos would be a notable addition to Gatland's already impressive CV.

As a hooker, Gatland was denied a Test cap by having to play second fiddle to All Blacks great Sean Fitzpatrick and he made his name as a coach in Ireland by revitalising an under-performing Connacht side.

That led to him getting the Ireland job before, after a promising start, he was sacked and replaced by Eddie O'Sullivan in 2001.

Undaunted, Gatland made his way to Wasps, whom he guided to three successive English Premiership titles and the 2004 European Cup.

A brief spell at his native Waikato followed before he promptly led Wales to a Grand Slam in his first season in charge.

Gatland is known for favouring a rush defence system formulated by longstanding backroom colleague Shaun Edwards, the former Great Britain rugby league international, and encouraging a handling game from his backs.

Given multiple Lions boss McGeechan's stated reluctance to take charge of another tour, Gatland's closest rival to lead the team would appear to be Ireland coach Declan Kidney, with England's Stuart Lancaster relatively new to his post and Scotland's results under Andy Robinson not impressive enough for the former England flanker to come into consideration.

Read more on:    warren gatland  |  rugby

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