Wales coach Warren Gatland has become the favourite to be named coach of the British and Irish Lions 2103 tour of Australia after his bosses gave him their backing.
The Welsh Rugby Union have given Gatland their backing to take what is understood to be a six month sabbatical in order to coach the Lions.
The British and Irish Lions want their coach to focus on the Lions from the start of the New Year and have insisted that he must be fully at their disposal during the Six Nations so the coach would have to stand down for next year’s Six Nations.
Lions team manager Andy Irvine said last year that their preference would be to have the 2013 coach “available effectively a year out”.
Gatland is understood to have a clause in his contract which allows him to take a break for five months but the WRU are believed to have agreed to give Gatland a six month break.
New Zealander Gatland was Sir Ian McGeechan’s coaching assistant in 2009 and the BBC understands that a motion was put before the WRU board and is understood to have been passed unanimously to allow Gatland to fulfil his ambitions.
Gatland’s assistant Shaun Edwards was also an Assistant coach on the 2009 Lions tour to South Africa and could team up with Gatland again for the 2013 tour.
If Gatland does take leave from Wales during next year’s Six Nations it is likely that one of Gatland’s current assistants – Rob Howley, Robin McBryde, Shaun Edwards and Neil Jenkins could take over the management of the Wales team on a temporary basis.
The 2013 British and Irish Lions tour starts in Hong Kong and features three Test matches as well as matches against all five Australian Super Rugby teams.