Wednesday 11 December 2019

'I turned down the All Blacks job for the Lions' says Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland. Photo: Getty Images
Warren Gatland. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Hayward

Warren Gatland says he turned down New Zealand's invitation to apply for the All Blacks job out of loyalty to the Lions as well as the Chiefs, the Super Rugby club he joined after leaving his post with Wales.

Gatland was on New Zealand's list of candidates to succeed Steve Hansen, but stuck with his plan to lead the Lions to South Africa in 2021.

"I was asked to apply for the position and I've gone back to them to say I won't be putting my name forward, because at this point I've made a commitment to the Chiefs and I've made a commitment to the Lions," Gatland said in an interview to launch his autobiography.

"They appreciated it, they understood it," Gatland says. "I just think it would look poor me applying. It wouldn't sit well with me, having already made those commitments to the other two."

Commonly seen as the No 1 in international rugby coaching, Gatland was coy on the possibility of one day managing England, but reflected on his history of mind games with Eddie Jones, while criticising the Rugby Football Union for not building a national training centre to match the one Wales have: "I don't know why they haven't recognised what a difference that would make."

The Lions will be relieved to learn that Gatland deferred his wish to coach his home nation. He says: "The thing about the All Blacks is, going back to New Zealand, being involved in Super Rugby, seeing how the Lions go in another couple of years with the Chiefs, if you're successful where you are, the opportunities come.

"I'm not saying, 'How do I become the All Blacks coach?'. That will happen if you do a good job and you're successful. That means that if I'm successful with the Chiefs, that opportunity might come along. It's not at the forefront of my thinking."

In Gatland's absence, Ian Foster, Scott Robertson, Jamie Joseph and Dave Rennie are the front-runners to coach the All Blacks, beaten by England in the World Cup semi- finals.

"The next six weeks will be interesting. I'll kind of sit back and enjoy the process," Gatland says.

With Jones staying on at Twickenham, the possibility of Gatland coaching England has receded. The suspension of their rivalry, meanwhile, will deprive the Six Nations of much spice. In the latest round, Gatland suggested England may have already played the World Cup final in their semi, prompting Jones to say he hoped Gatland would enjoy "the third and fourth-place play-off".

"I wasn't talking specifically about England," says Gatland, who cites New Zealand's laboured performance against France in the 2011 World Cup final after they had beaten Australia 20-6 in the semis.

"I was referring back to that. What people have got to realise as well was that in that England semi-final, when you get to a performance like that, it's right at the highest point of emotion. People don't realise it's very, very difficult to bring that emotion the following week. I've experienced that in the past. That's sport. Potentially it may have happened to England.

"New Zealand had beaten South Africa in pool play and England had dominated their semi-final; there was so much expectation, with people thinking they were going to win, but it just didn't happen for them in the final. I thought that England performance (against the All Blacks) was one of the best rugby performances I've seen for a long, long time. A different team turned up the following week."

© Daily Telegraph, London

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