Rugby: Gatland set to be named Lions coach this week

Warren Gatland. Photo / Dean Purcell
Warren Gatland. Photo / Dean Purcell

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 (UKT) 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 scrum-half 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.

- AFP

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