Warren Gatland, who led the British and Irish Lions to their triumph over Australia in 2013, is no certainty to coach the side on their tour to New Zealand in 2017.

The Kiwi coach of Wales was considered a safe bet to take up where he left off in Australia, where the Lions won the series 2-1, but John Spencer, the manager of the team which will tour Down Under next year, has revealed that only a head coach able to take a year-long sabbatical will be considered for the trip.

Gatland, one of the highest paid rugby coaches in the world, will learn whether or not he has the Lions job towards the end of the Northern Hemisphere summer, following the completion of the home nations' visits to the southern hemisphere. Wales tour New Zealand for a three-test series in June.

Spencer, speaking at a sponsor's announcement, said coaching form over the next six months would be pivotal and refused to endorse Gatland.


"I couldn't say if Warren is in a strong position. We have to keep an open mind until the last minute and look at teams in the Six Nations and summer tours," Spencer said.

"He has obviously been very successful. As far as the New Zealand tour is concerned it is a blank sheet. Everyone has to have a first tour.

"If you get into the Lions culture and values you can understand it pretty well from scratch.
"We could well look outside the Six Nations, but I haven't heard of any proposals for that at the moment.

"We would expect them to give 100 per cent of their time to the Lions. That would be the best preparation and we are looking for best principles."

Chief executive John Feehan said the Lions will not be making a stop on the way to New Zealand despite offers from the United States, the Far East and the Middle East.

The Lions stopped off in Hong Kong for a match en route to Australia in 2013 but next year's tour will be confined to the home of the world champions, with 10 matches scheduled in June and July.

"We don't have the time for it [a stop-off]," said Feehan. "We'd love to have done it but we don't have the time.

"We have 10 games in New Zealand this time, more than in Australia, and we just don't have the time for an 11th game. It's a shame but it's one of those things."

The Lions last toured New Zealand in 2005 and suffered a whitewash as the All Blacks won the series 3-0 with first-five Dan Carter, who had made his test debut two years earlier, taking a starring role.

The tour was controversial for several reasons, not least Brian O'Driscoll's injury in Christchurch from the tackle of Keven Mealamu and Tana Umaga, and coach Clive Woodward's insistence on bringing spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

Feehan said Eddie Jones, the Australian recently appointed as England coach, was unlikely to be given the Lions job.