Warren Gatland to lead Lions on 2021 South Africa tour
Outgoing Wales coach has verbal agreement to coach side on third successive tour
Warren Gatland will coach the Lions on the 2021 tour of South Africa. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Warren Gatland’s verbal agreement to head the Lions for a third successive tour will give him time to consider his options after spending the last 12 years as Wales’s head coach.
Gatland has established himself as one of the world’s leading coaches but the two plum jobs he would be a candidate for, the head coach of New Zealand and of England, will not be resolved until the end of the World Cup and will hinge on how the two countries perform.
Steve Hansen is standing down as New Zealand’s head coach after the tournament. If the All Blacks win the tournament for the third successive time, his attack coach Ian Foster would likely step up, but if they fell short, candidates from outside the current management team would be looked at.
Eddie Jones’s contract as England’s head coach runs until 2021, but it would be reviewed if the World Cup campaign turned sour. A change at the end of the year would be too soon for Gatland, who has said he will be taking a long holiday: his year with the Lions would start in the summer of 2020.
It is understood that Twickenham’s preference should Jones not survive Japan is Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, although he is contracted to the Premiership champions until 2022. If Jones carried on, Gatland would be a contender to succeed him after the Lions tour of South Africa in 2021.
It was the uncertainty surrounding England that prompted Wales’s defence coach, Shaun Edwards, to open negotiations with France after turning down the offer of a new contract by the Welsh Rugby Union. As Edwards did with Wigan last year, Gatland has verbally agreed to carry on as the Lions head coach, although the tourists would be unlikely to stand in his way should New Zealand come calling.
Gatland declined to talk about the Lions last week after announcing Wales’s World Cup training squad. “This is about Wales and I am not going to speak about the Lions,” he said. “I have not spoke to England at all. They are not talking to anyone or making any appointments until after the World Cup. I have had a number of approaches from different places: it is about making the right decision at the right time. I’m not too worried about whether I have a job or not for a while. I’m a great believer in what will be will be.”
Before the start of the Six Nations, Gatland suggested his preference would be to return to New Zealand. “I am looking to take a few months off after the World Cup and start looking in the middle of 2020, perhaps some Super Rugby in New Zealand if there was an opportunity. I am also aware that there are not many jobs there so it might not be an option.”
The Lions job gives Gatland insurance, but with his track record something longer lasting will emerge. The question is when and his grand slam Wales side may influence the timing of that in Japan. - Guardian