Agents for Gatland open negotiations on Lions job
WARREN GATLAND will lead the Lions to Australia in 2013 as long as he can iron out a contract with the board.
The Wales coach has been offered the job after interviewing for the position last Wednesday. Having guided Wales to a second Grand Slam in his tenure earlier this month, the New Zealander was the clear favourite for the position and will become the second Kiwi to coach the Lions after Graham Henry led the last combined side to tour Australia in 2001.
Gatland has returned to New Zealand for a holiday but his representatives have opened discussions with the Lions board to finalise the contract.
His appointment is expected to be confirmed at the start of next month. The Lions are keen for the head coach to be appointed on a 12-month contract, ensuring Gatland, who was an assistant during the tour of South Africa in 2009, would focus solely on building his squad from the start of next season.
It is thought that Gatland may be keen to remain in place during Wales' autumn internationals and possibly even during next year's Six Nations. But the Lions board will insist that he is not involved in next year's championship because of potential conflicts of interest and the need for the head coach to be operating on a full-time basis for at least six months before the tour.
The Welsh Rugby Union have already given Gatland their blessing for him to take up the position and will ask Gatland's assistants Rob Howley and Robin McBryde to lead Wales on an interim basis next year.
It is almost certain that Gatland will appoint his Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards and England's forwards coach Graham Rowntree as part of his Lions coaching team.
Meanwhile, international refereeing is set for a shake-up after Paddy O'Brien stepped down as head of the International Rugby Board referees. Irish referee Peter Fitzgibbon has been demoted from the tier-one panel along with English officials Dave Pearson, Andrew Small and Wayne Barnes, South African Mark Lawrence and New Zealander Bryce Lawrence.
Leinster received a boost ahead of their Heineken Cup quarter-final date with the Cardiff Blues after Wales captain Sam Warburton confirmed he won't be available for the Lansdowne Road clash.