Warren Gatland favourite to take Lions coaching role ahead of Joe Schmidt
Warren Gatland has emerged as the strong favourite to take charge of the Lions for the tour of New Zealand next year, with Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt believed to be his main rival.
The new England head coach Eddie Jones is unlikely to be involved unless he opens his tenure in spectacular fashion by guiding his side to a Six Nations Grand Slam this season.
Gatland, the Wales coach who oversaw the Lions' 2-1 Test series victory against Australia in 2013, is almost certain to head up the shortlist for the coach's job for the tour against his native New Zealand.
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 is understood to have a break clause in his contract, even though it only runs until 2017, to allow him to accept a Lions position.
John Feehan, the Lions chief executive, speaking at the unveiling of Standard Life Investments as the Lions' principal partner for the tour to New Zealand, confirmed last night that Gatland was the front-runner.
"It would absolutely ludicrous of me to say that Warren would not be the leading contender, he clearly is," Feehan said.
"If he is involved in the next tour it will be a third tour for him, he has a record that is pretty much second to none in the northern hemisphere and so he has to be the leading contender.
"The four home-based coaches are a pretty good starting point. It is unlikely that we will move outside of that, but we will keep an open mind. We will consider any international coach who wants to be involved."
The prospect of Gatland working alongside fellow New Zealander Schmidt could also be considered with the Lions board seeking to appoint only the best candidates, irrespective of their nationality.
Leicester, meanwhile, yesterday announced the signing of South Africa World Cup winger JP Pietersen on a three-year contract, starting next season.
The 29-year-old was a member of the Springboks squad that won the 2007 World Cup and played in the 2011 and 2015 tournaments.