Monday 16 September 2019

Gatland out of running to take England job after agreeing deal with Lions

Warren Gatland. Photo: PA
Warren Gatland. Photo: PA

Nigel Whittaker

Warren Gatland is believed to have agreed a deal that will see him lead the Lions for a record third successive term, this time to South Africa in 2021.

The Lions have moved quickly to secure Gatland, ending the prospect of the Kiwi replacing Eddie Jones as England boss after the World Cup.

Although the contract has yet to be signed as Gatland is currently in New Zealand, a verbal agreement has been reached.

A spokesman for the Lions has declined to comment on the matter.

Gatland is due to step down from his post with Wales after the World Cup and, as the most successful coach in Six Nations history, his services were in demand by clubs and international sides.

Earlier this year he masterminded his third Grand Slam and fourth Six Nations title since taking up the Welsh coaching reins in 2007.

Recruiting him is a coup for new Lions managing director Ben Calveley, who viewed the 55-year-old as the outstanding candidate for the role.

A start date has yet to be finalised, but it is likely he will officially begin work 10 months to a year out from the tour.

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The appointment means he will complete the set of Lions tour destinations as head coach after overseeing a 2-1 series win against Australia in 2013 and 1-1 draw with New Zealand two years ago.

It continues an association with the elite of British and Irish rugby that dates back to 2009 when he served as forwards coach under Ian McGeechan.

A savage but enthralling series against South Africa ended in a 2-1 defeat, but upon taking full command four years later he plotted the downfall of the Wallabies in what became the first successful tour since 1997.

Sabbatical

For that instalment he took a sabbatical from his post with Wales, enabling him to focus on logistics and selection, and the Lions were rewarded with a result that staved off concerns for their future in the wake of three consecutive series defeats.

Arguably his finest tour arrived four years later, however, when he oversaw a thrilling draw with the All Blacks when the odds were heavily stacked against him in the shape of a brutal itinerary.

He was subjected to personal criticism in his native New Zealand with a newspaper mocking him up as a clown, making the outcome of the series all the more satisfying.

At one point Gatland was favourite to succeed Jones as England head coach but Twickenham must now look elsewhere in their muddled succession planning.

Jones is contracted until 2021 subject to performance at this year's World Cup, with a break clause allowing him to be jettisoned after Japan 2019.

Meanwhile, Clermont Auvergne secured the European Rugby Challenge Cup with a thrilling 33-16 victory over La Rochelle at St James' Park.

Clermont edged a tight first half to lead 13-6 as Morgan Parra and Greig Laidlaw landed penalties and Damian Penaud grabbed the only try of the opening 40 minutes. Ihaia West kicked two penalties for La Rochelle.

West reduced the gap to four points with his third penalty before their Top 14 rivals surged ahead through two further Laidlaw kicks and a penalty try in six second-half minutes to move 26-9 in front.

Uini Atonio barged over for La Rochelle with West converting to cut the deficit to 10 points but a converted Wesley Fofana try and Laidlaw penalty earned Clermont their third Challenge Cup crown.

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