His immediate future centres on Wales and the World Cup. Next he will lead the British and Irish Lions on the quest for an unprecedented third, unbeaten tour.

But in ruling out coaching England or putting his hand up to replace Steve Hansen, Warren Gatland has seemingly signalled intent to return home and chase a post with the Chiefs.

News that Gatland will lead the Lions to South Africa in 2021 leaked long before his grand unveiling in London today, and so attention flickered elsewhere.

The credibility of shorted tours - reduced from the 10 games played in New Zealand two years ago to eight matches over five weeks - compromised preparation, with England's Premiership Rugby final to cause familiar ructions, and the delicate future of the Lions itself were all touch points as Gatland fielded probes after the official announcement.

But the main point of interest, from a New Zealand and English perspective at least, was Gatland's long-term future.


Today he outlined plans that very much indicate he is plotting to eventually join the Chiefs.

In signing on to again guide the Lions, and bid to create history as the first coach to emerge from three unbeaten tours, Gatland has agreed to work exclusively for the prestigious conglomerate from August 2020 through to the end of July, 2021.

Long touted as a leading candidate to replace Eddie Jones, whose contract as England coach technically runs through to 2021, Gatland unequivocally put a line through the prospect of him jumping the Severn bridge after the World Cup.

"I can tell you definitively now I will not be coaching England," Gatland said.

Will you put your hand up to coach the All Blacks, the Herald asked: "No not at the moment, no," the 55-year-old responded.

What about the Chiefs, any interest in returning home?

"At the moment I'm talking to a couple of people about what I'm going to do post the Lions but there's nothing that I've looked at signing or nothing formal at the moment.

"My whole focus has been about this role and planning and preparing Wales for the World Cup. Once today is over I won't really think about the Lions for the next few months in terms of doing the best job I can for Wales and then perhaps start thinking about what other options and what else I'm going to do."

Read between the lines and Gatland is almost certainly attempting to manoeuvre his way back to Hamilton to take the reins at the Chiefs, who have struggled over the past two years since Dave Rennie's departure.


Gatland's interest in the Chiefs became more evident when asked why he would not be in the mix to succeed Jones.

"I've said they can't afford me… no, look, I think my coaching path is going to take a different direction. I'll finish with Wales then I'm not sure what I'm going to do then I've got 12 months to focus on the Lions and then my plan is to go back to New Zealand and hopefully if there's an opportunity to do some Super Rugby in New Zealand.

"That's where I see my pathway at the moment."

With Tony Brown returning home next year to help Aaron Mauger at the Highlanders; Leon MacDonald secure at the Blues, Scott Robertson at the Crusaders and John Plumtree at the Hurricanes the only genuine opening for Gatland could come with the Chiefs, where Colin Cooper has one more season remaining on his contract.

Chiefs assistant Tabai Matson probably has designs on stepping up to replace Cooper, and with the vast majority of Gatland's coaching career based in the Northern Hemisphere – all of the past 12 years – there will be questions about whether his favoured brand of rugby can be adapted to suit New Zealand's attacking-minded approach.

Gatland's record of success, though, is impossible to dismiss. Outside the Lions he has four Six Nations titles, including three grand slams, to go with three Premiership and one European crown.

Born, schooled and having played 140 games for Waikato, Gatland also fosters an inherent passion for the region.

The only question now is whether the Chiefs want him, and if the timing fits.

As for the All Blacks, another candidate appears to have ruled out contesting Hansen's seat, further fuelling the prospect of a showdown between Robertson and All Blacks assistant Ian Foster.