Rugby: Gatland says Joe Schmidt 'can have' Lions job

Warren Gatland, Head Coach of Wales waves prior to the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between England and Wales. Photo / Getty Images.
Warren Gatland, Head Coach of Wales waves prior to the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between England and Wales. Photo / Getty Images.

Warren Gatland has provided more evidence that he is not keen on the British and Irish Lions head coaching job because of the "crazy" itinerary the New Zealand Rugby Union has lumped on the tourists next year.

The former All Black hooker turned master coach told Radio Sport's Matt Brown during last year's Rugby World Cup that he was no certainty to accept the Lions job due to his belief the tour schedule was massively stacked against the visitors and favoured the All Blacks.

The issue was raised again at the launch of the Six Nations tournament in England yesterday where British journalists put to him that next weekend's clash between Ireland and Wales is a personal duel between himself and fellow New Zealander Joe Schmidt for the Lions role.

But Gatland, who was head coach of the successful Lions tour to Australia in 2013, replied to the questions saying: 'He can have the job! Have you seen the schedule?

"To play three tests, five Super Rugby teams and New Zealand Maori and expect to win... It's not unwinnable but it's very, very tough.

"I'm a great believer in what will be will be, I'm just focusing on the Six Nations and then the summer tour."

Lions chief executive John Feehan confirmed earlier this month that a decision on who would take charge of next year's tour will be made in 'late summer', with events between now and then - nominally the Six Nations - being the deciding factor.

Gatland questioned the wisdom of tour organisers for tabling the Lions' first tour match against a New Zealand Provincial XV just one week after the English Premiership and Pro12 finals.

The Premiership final and Celtic League Pro12 showpiece both take place on Saturday, May 28.

Gatland explained the Lions tour effectively starts the day after those club finals, before the opening tour clash on Saturday, June 3, 2017.

"The team has an away dinner on the Sunday, fly on the Monday, arrive on the Wednesday and your first game's on the Saturday," said Gatland, who led the Lions to a series victory in Australia in 2013.

"Then you're playing a Test match two weeks later. So it's very tough.

"If I got offered it again it would be difficult to turn down.

"But if you weren't involved and didn't get it you may think 'thank my lucky stars' and go and enjoy it as a spectator."

Ireland boss Schmidt, meanwhile, has insisted he cannot currently be considered to lead the Lions next summer because of the constraints of his Ireland contract.

The Ireland head coach revealed his current contract does not allow him to take the year-long sabbatical the Lions require in the build-up to the 2017 tour.

While Schmidt downplayed his chances he did not discuss whether he has talked to the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) about a possible release.

"To be honest the terms of my current contract don't allow me to do the Lions, so it's actually a moot point," said Schmidt of his chances of leading the Lions.

"It doesn't distract me because it isn't actually something I can do unless the terms of my contract change.

"I finish at that time and there's some outside influences on that that will probably dictate anything beyond that.

"So I'm not planning for beyond where my contract finishes and to be honest, if you're a coach sometimes you don't even get to the finish of it because that's the harsh reality, it's a very success-driven environment."

Schmidt's current Ireland contract expires at the end of June 2017, just as the Lions would be looking to head on tour.

There is no suggestion Schmidt would be constrained by his Ireland role from joining the Lions' backroom staff, however.

And that leaves open the potential for Schmidt to work under Gatland, who led the Lions to their 2013 series win in Australia.

Gatland already has a clause in his contract allowing for a sabbatical next year, and Rob Howley led Wales in the Kiwi boss' absence in the lead-up to the 2013 Lions tour.

LIONS TOUR SCHEDULE


3 June 2017 - Provincial Union XV vs Lions
7 June 2017 - Blues vs Lions
10 June 2017 - Crusaders vs Lions
13 June 2017 - Highlanders vs Lions
17 June 2017 - New Zealand Maori vs Lions
20 June 2017 - Chiefs vs Lions
24 June 2017 - New Zealand vs Lions (First Test)
27 June 2017 - Hurricanes vs Lions
1 July 2017 - New Zealand vs Lions (Second Test)
8 July 2017 - New Zealand vs Lions (Third Test)

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