Gatland free for lions job
WARREN GATLAND is the early favourite to coach the British and Irish Lions on their 2013 tour of Australia after it emerged his new Wales contract contains a timely five-month break clause which will free him up for Lions duties, writes HUGH FARRELLY.
Gatland plans to appoint a junior coaching team to lead Wales on their tour to Japan that summer, after the Welsh Rugby Union agreed he could take a sabbatical.
The former All Blacks hooker insisted the Lions did not feature in negotiations over his four-year deal and that he just wanted a chance to spend some time back in New Zealand.
But Gatland is considered to be one of the leading candidates to take charge of the Lions in 2013 -- with Ireland's Declan Kidney also in the mix -- and refused to rule it out.
"The Lions was a fantastic experience and an honour and a privilege to be involved with the players. To do it again? We'll just have to see," said Gatland, who was Lions forwards coach on the 2009 tour to South Africa.
The fact the Ireland coach is technically available in the summer of 2013 opens the door for him to be considered for the Lions job, though there remain further hurdles to clear.
Tour manager Andy Irvine said earlier this week it was unlikely any of the home nations coaches would be considered unless they could secure at least partial release from the 2013 Six Nations.
England prop Phil Vickery, a two-time Lions tourists, threw his considerable weight behind Gatland's credentials. "I think Warren would be a fantastic candidate and I hope he does it. He's a guy who I have the utmost respect for," Vickery said.