Thursday 17 October 2019

Gatland will 'definitely' not take England reins

Warren Gatland is set to become the head coach of New Zealand Super Rugby side The Chiefs. Photo: PA
Warren Gatland is set to become the head coach of New Zealand Super Rugby side The Chiefs. Photo: PA

Mick Cleary

Warren Gatland has ruled himself out of becoming the next England head coach, even though he was top of the Rugby Football Union's list to succeed Eddie Jones.

On the day that he was confirmed as the British and Irish Lions' head coach for the 2021 tour to South Africa, the current Wales head coach dismissed any notion of following in footsteps of Jones.

Instead, he revealed that he will return to his native New Zealand once his duties with the Lions finish in two years' time, opening up the opportunity for him to be considered as a future coach of the All Blacks.

Wales won their third Grand Slam under Gatland when beating England in March but, although the credentials of the 55-year-old have made a distinct impression at Twickenham, the RFU have to look elsewhere for the next head coach.

Gatland will focus on completing an unbeaten Lions stint of the southern hemisphere, but found time to rebuke Jones for his off-handed dismissal of the Lions post as no more than an "ambassador job... in a blazer", by declaring the role was "one of the hardest things I have ever had to do as a coach".

"I don't know how you could coach a Lions team in a blazer," said Gatland.

"Maybe that was a subtle way of ruling himself out of contention. I can tell you definitively now I will not be coaching England. My coaching path is going to take a different direction.

"I finish with Wales (post World Cup) and then the whole focus is on the Lions. My plan then is to go back to New Zealand and if there is an opportunity in Super Rugby, that's where I see my pathway."

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Even though Gatland was upbeat in his assessment of the Lions' chances of beating the Springboks, putting Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones and England fly-half Owen Farrell as current front-runners to captain the tour, he did acknowledge the odds are stacked against him after the decision was taken to trim the tours to eight matches in five weeks, a 20 per cent reduction in games from when he oversaw the drawn series in New Zealand in 2017.

Gatland admitted that he is considering heading to South Africa with a smaller squad and with his Test team already in mind.

"I would hate to see the Lions reduced to five or six games. We are at the minimum at the moment. We took 42 players last time. The loose number we are talking about is 38.

"The biggest challenge I have is how do I protect that 23 for the first Test? You need that time together." (© Daily Telegraph London)

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