Sunday 20 August 2017

Joe Schmidt among six contenders to coach the Lions in 2021

Joe Schmidt, Warren Gatland and Gregor Townsend
Joe Schmidt, Warren Gatland and Gregor Townsend

Warren Gatland has already ensured his place in British and Irish Lions history by overseeing a series win in Australia in 2013 and now this year's drawn Test campaign in New Zealand.

Here, we examine the early candidates to coach the Lions in South Africa in 2021.

WARREN GATLAND, WALES AND BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS

Wales head coach Gatland has refused to rule out a third successive tour as Lions boss in 2021. The 53-year-old is on the All Blacks' radar to replace current New Zealand boss Steve Hansen when he retires in 2019. Gatland's Wales contract expires after the 2019 World Cup, and he could now easily be drafted into the All Blacks set-up in due course.

The former Wasps and Ireland boss could opt not to chase a role with the All Blacks however. And were he still available for Lions duty in four years, he would clearly boast the experience and acumen to man the helm once more.

EDDIE JONES, ENGLAND

England boss Jones has long since joked he will end up on the beach watching cricket in retirement after the 2019 World Cup. And yet in May Jones admitted he would be keen on the Lions role if he were in the right place at the right time when 2021 comes around. "I am open to everything.

I don't sit there at night and think 'I hope I am going to be the next Lions coach'," said Jones in May. "Because it is such a unique job there is no natural progression to it. It is a one-off job which is decided at a certain time. "And if you are in the market and in the right area then you are going to get a call and get a tap on the shoulder. I wouldn't say no but I am not saying yes." Jones will know full well this statement leaves the Lions bosses on alert that he is fully interested in coaching the next tour.

DAI YOUNG, WASPS

Former Wales and Lions prop Young has excelled with Wasps in an upwardly-mobile coaching career that appears destined to take in a Test match stint sooner rather than later. Young ought to be on the radar as a potential replacement for Gatland as Wales boss. The 49-year-old former Cardiff coach appears very settled in the Premiership, and Wasps are certainly continuing to improve under his tutelage.

Young understands the Lions' ethos and demands, and has also created a heavily attack-laden Wasps team that would appeal to traditionalists who want to see the famed touring side play with flair and pace.

MARK MCCALL, SARACENS

Former Ulster coach McCall's stunning success with Saracens must not be overlooked in any conversation about Test match-calibre coaches. Whether McCall wants a move into the Test arena remains to be seen. But the 49-year-old has built a stunning club dynasty at Saracens, where a full generation of England stars have blossomed in the same team.

The spine of the 2017 Lions had a distinctly Saracens feel to it, and that could well be repeated in four years' time. McCall would certainly know how to set up an effective line-up, and could just add the subtle stardust to make the Lions thrive in South Africa.

GREGOR TOWNSEND, SCOTLAND

The former Lions fly-half has graduated from his coaching stint at Glasgow to lead Scotland. His foray into the Test arena represents a huge hike in challenge. But were Townsend to succeed in the coming years, he would certainly move himself into contention to coach the Lions. The 44-year-old built a Glasgow team in his playing image: fast, fleet-footed and boasting no little brain power on the ball. To thrive in the Test arena he must surely add a grittier edge to the Scotland ranks however. Achieve all that though, and he will merit inclusion in the 2021 Lions coaching chat.

JOE SCHMIDT, IRELAND

Ireland's Kiwi boss excelled with Clermont and Leinster, and has transferred his cerebral and detailed coaching style into the Test arena. Ireland's maiden win over New Zealand in Chicago in November, the 40-29 victory at Soldier Field, proved his credentials once again. Schmidt's Ireland contract expires after the 2019 World Cup, at which point he may well look to return to his native New Zealand.

The 51-year-old former schoolteacher's ambition is such that he would surely want to push for the All Blacks job in due course. Whether he could squeeze in a Lions sabbatical en route back to his homeland remains up for debate. But he certainly boasts the CV to be under serious consideration.

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