Thursday 29 September 2016

Warren Gatland jokes Joe Schmidt 'can have' Lions job

Published 27/01/2016 | 12:51

Warren Gatland admits the British and Irish Lions face a daunting schedule
Warren Gatland admits the British and Irish Lions face a daunting schedule

Warren Gatland has claimed the British and Irish Lions have doubled the pressure to win a first Test series in New Zealand since 1971 through compiling a "very, very tough schedule".

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Wales boss Gatland remains the front-runner to lead the Lions next summer but joked rival Joe Schmidt "can have the job if he wants it".

Gatland questioned the wisdom of tour organisers for tabling the Lions' first tour match against a New Zealand Provincial XV just one week after the Aviva Premiership and Pro12 finals.

"He can have the job if he wants it!" said Gatland, joking that the schedule would lead him to offer the Lions head coach role to Ireland boss Schmidt.

"Have you seen the schedule? He can have it.

"It's a really tough tour. I'm not saying the Lions can't win, it's just a tough schedule.

"It's the hardest place in the world to go and play, from a travel and organisation perspective as well as the rugby perspective.

"It's not un-winnable, but it's a very, very tough schedule."

The Premiership final and Celtic League Pro12 showpiece both take place on Saturday, May 28.

Gatland explained the Lions tour effectively starts the day after those club finals, before the opening tour clash on Saturday, June 3, 2017.

"The team has an away dinner on the Sunday, fly on the Monday, arrive on the Wednesday and your first game's on the Saturday," said Gatland, who led the Lions to a series victory in Australia in 2013.

"Then you're playing a Test match two weeks later. So it's very tough.

"If I got offered it again it would be difficult to turn down.

"But if you weren't involved and didn't get it you may think 'thank my lucky stars' and go and enjoy it as a spectator."

Ireland boss Schmidt, meanwhile, has insisted he cannot currently be considered to lead the Lions next summer because of the constraints of his Ireland contract.

The Ireland head coach revealed his current contract does not allow him to take the year-long sabbatical the Lions require in the build-up to the 2017 tour.

While Schmidt downplayed his chances he did not discuss whether he has talked to the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) about a possible release.

"To be honest the terms of my current contract don't allow me to do the Lions, so it's actually a moot point," said Schmidt of his chances of leading the Lions.

"It doesn't distract me because it isn't actually something I can do unless the terms of my contract change.

"I finish at that time and there's some outside influences on that that will probably dictate anything beyond that.

"So I'm not planning for beyond where my contract finishes and to be honest, if you're a coach sometimes you don't even get to the finish of it because that's the harsh reality, it's a very success-driven environment."

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.

Press Association

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