Wellington - Warren Gatland's dream of one day coaching the
All Blacks - already a long shot - is almost certainly doomed unless his
British and Irish Lions can muster a Test win this weekend.
Gatland, a proud Kiwi, has a complicated relationship with
New Zealand rugby that has become increasing fractious as the Lions tour has
As a player, he pulled on the famous All Black jersey 17
times and also scored a try against the 1993 Lions when representing Waikato.
As a coach, he hasn't hesitated to call out the world
champions about tactics he sees as dangerous or borderline illegal.
It's raised hackles among Gatland's compatriots, including
incumbent All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who labelled his rival
"desperate" and "predictable".
His forthright views have also not helped Gatland's chances
of achieving his oft-repeated ambition of returning to New Zealand one day and
becoming All Blacks coach.
He referred to the possibility as recently as last month,
telling British media he wanted to go to the 2019 World Cup with Wales but it
would be "fantastic" to take over the reigning world champions at
Gatland left New Zealand to pursue his coaching career in
1996 and has been overseas ever since, barring a stint back in Waikato from
He has a creditable coaching record, leading the Lions to
victory over Australia in 2013, winning three Six Nations titles with Wales and
enjoying success at club level.
But it's not a CV that would have the All Blacks swooning as
they look to build on back-to-back world titles and an unprecedented 90 percent
New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew said this month that
Gatland was among the expatriate Kiwis who would be considered if Hansen steps
down in 2019, even if he's not at the front of his mind.
"Joe (Schmidt) is sitting in Ireland and we'd like to
have him back. Vern (Cotter - Montpellier, ex-Scotland) is coaching at a very
high level and you wouldn't rule Gatty out either," Tew said.
Weighing against Gatland is the fact that the All Blacks
prefer to promote from within - Hansen served an eight-year apprenticeship
under Graham Henry before taking the top job.
That puts current assistant coach Ian Foster in the box seat
to succeed Hansen.
Before the series began, All Black great John Kirwan said
having a Kiwi like Gatland with an intimate knowledge of New Zealand rugby was
an "X-factor" for the Lions as they chase a first series win since
It has not proved the case so far. The Lions are 1-0 down in
the three-Test series and Gatland must produce something special to make a
statement in the second clash with the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday.
That's assuming he has not had a change of heart about his
All Black ambitions during the bruising tour of New Zealand.
Gatland retains close links with the homeland and his wife
and children still live in his North Island hometown of Hamilton while he plies
his trade abroad.
But he has been disillusioned at his reception in New
Zealand, complaining about attacks against him in the local media and his
"trash talk" exchanges with Hansen.
The coverage includes accusations that Gatland is
"unravelling" under the pressure of the tour and a full-page
caricature in the New Zealand Herald depicting him as a clown.
"I'm not bothered what (Hansen) says or what a
newspaper draws. I hope it was a happy clown, that's all," Gatland
"I'd like to think as a Kiwi that some things about me
would be more positive from some media, but that hasn't happened.
"One or two people have had a personal campaign against
me, but that's water off a duck's back. I couldn't give a toss."