'Joe Schmidt can have the Lions job if he wants' - Wales boss Warren Gatland
Wales boss Warren Gatland is the favourite to land the role as head coach for the British and Irish Lions for their trip to New Zealand in 2017 but won't be dejected if he doesn't get the job.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt revealed this morning that talk of him taking up the role was a "moot point" as his current contract withe the IRFU does not allow him to become available for the position.
The terms of Schmidt's deal would need to be renegotiated to allow him to throw his hat in the ring.
After leading the Lions to a 2-1 triumph in Australia three years ago, Gatland is the bookies favourite for the position
"Joe Schmidt can have the Lions job if he wants! Have you seen the schedule?! He can have it!," Gatland said at the launch of the RBS Six Nations in London.
"It’s a really tough tour. I’m not saying they can’t win but it’s tough. You’re facing the World Champions. It’s not unwinnable but very, very tough.
"I’ve been very lucky to have been involved in a couple of tours. If you were offered it you’d find it difficult to turn down but if you weren’t offered it you might thank your lucky stars."
The Lions board are to draw up a shortlist at the end of the home unions' summer tours this year, with an appointment expected by the end of August or early September.
The Lions board hope that the head coach will take up his appointment with immediate effect, although they are open to some flexibility that could involve the coach retaining some involvement with their national side during the autumn Test series, as Gatland did in 2012.
Schmidt's current Ireland contract expires at the end of June 2017, just as the Lions would be looking to head on tour.
There is no suggestion Schmidt would be constrained by his Ireland role from joining the Lions' backroom staff, however.
And that leaves open the potential for Schmidt to work under Gatland, who led the Lions to their 2013 series win in Australia.
Gatland already has a clause in his contract allowing for a sabbatical next year, and Rob Howley led Wales in the Kiwi boss' absence in the lead-up to the 2013 Lions tour.
Gatland will pit his wits against Schmidt on the opening weekend of the Six Nations and knows the significance of the result at the Aviva Stadium on February 7.
"We have been slow starters in this tournament but have done well after World Cups because of the time we have had together," he said
"Ireland away is a tough game. The World Cup warm-up was a big game and what Ireland have achieved in the last few years means they’ll be tough to get over. Both teams know how big a game it is. If we can get that win with two home games after that then hopefully it will set us up nicely."
Gatland was also quizzed about Ireland's conservative approach under Schmidt and said: "Ireland’s game plan has been incredibly good for them. If you’re beating teams and being successful it’s hard to go away from that.
" Joe has been tight in the way he plays the game, you saw that with Leinster. I’m sure the Irish will be a bit more expansive. I can understand why they’ve played that way. It’s hard to get away from that."