Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: NZ troika strongest option to lead Lions

Wales coach Warren Gatland. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
Wales coach Warren Gatland. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

A year from now the rugby tumult will be hitting new levels as New Zealand prepares for the arrival of the Lions.

In the interlude we'll get an appetiser when Wales and Warren Gatland arrive to take on the All Blacks in a three-test series in June while across the Ditch, the Wallabies host England.

The vastly experienced Gatland is the strongest contender to repeat in 2017 with the Lions because Eddie Jones said he's not in the running after just one season coaching England in the Six Nations.

Remember though he initially said he would not leave the Stormers to coach England. Money and power can change any opinion.

The Lions leader will be announced in August and what's not to like about an all-Kiwi troika of Gatland, Joe Schmidt and Vern Cotter at the head of the expedition in 2017.

Probably everything from a British and Irish point of view but who else?

Is the Lions committee going to appoint one of the assistant coaches on the circuit who is a specialist defence technician or some attacking guru who happens to carry a British passport?

That's all very worthy and sentimentally pukka but if the three best available coaches are Gatland, Schmidt and Cotter, kit them out in the Lions gear and give them the jobs. The Lions will need men of that calibre and experience to split off and coach the midweek matches as well as co-ordinating the reconnaissance and helping drive plans for the three tests.

It will be a massive task for the Lions who face an itinerary the All Blacks would recoil from.

There's a forgiving start against a provincial side before the fury explodes in games against the Blues, Crusaders and Highlanders, then contests against the Maori All Blacks and Chiefs to lead into the first test. The midweek match between the final two tests is against the Hurricanes.

Expert coaches who also have a decent layer of knowledge and comprehension about the rugby scene in New Zealand, men who understand the meaning and psyche of the winter sport in NZ, will be invaluable.

Wales captain Sam Warburton is a hot pick to return as Lions skipper alongside his national coach and believes a blend of Gatland, Schmidt and Cotter would boost the chances of the Lions emulating the success of their 1971 predecessors.

Gatland coached the Lions to their 2-1 series triumph in Australia in 2013 with Warburton as his leader and they're a month away from their three-test survey mission with Wales. Only a disaster will remove them from another 2017 reunion.

- NZ Herald

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