Warren Gatland has been confirmed as the head coach for the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia in 2013.
The kiwi coach was announced as the head coach at an official Lion press conference in London this morning.
The New Zealander is only the second coach from outside of the home unions to head coach the Lions in their 125 year history following fellow kiwi Graham Henry in 2001.
Head coach of Wales, Gatland has been given a sabbatical from his position by the WRU to take up the role, however he will remain in charge for Wales’ home tests against Australia and New Zealand in November.
The Lions had previously insisted that they wanted their head coach to be in place for a full year ahead of the tour but it appears they have relented to the WRU’s wish to keep Gatland in place for the two key tests. Assistant coach Rob Howley will take charge of Wales for their matches against Samoa and Argentina.
Gatland has been confirmed as Lions head coach later than planned having suffered a double heel break suffered falling off a ladder whilst cleaning windows at home in New Zealand. Lions bosses delayed his appointment so they could confirm that he would be fit to take the role next summer, but they finally rubber stamped the appointment today.
Warren Gatland commented “I am really honoured to have been asked to take the position of head coach for the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour to Australia. I really enjoyed the experience as one of the assistant coaches in 2009 and since then have harboured the ambition to lead the Tour to Australia next year.”
“There is no question it will be one hell of a challenge. Playing in the southern hemisphere is one of rugby’s hardest challenges. The Lions came close in South Africa and our ambition is to win the series in 2013, and I believe we have the players to do that.”
“Over the coming months I will give careful consideration to the make-up of my coaching staff and of course the playing squad itself. A Lions Tour is unique, it is the ultimate career pinnacle for coaches and players. I want to ensure that we get the Tour environment right so that we are hugely competitive and that our fans are proud of their team”
Lions Tour Manager Andy Irvine said “It has been no secret that after the initial selection process Warren was our preferred candidate. However, his unfortunate accident earlier this year in New Zealand during the selection process did delay the appointment. We naturally had to ensure he would be fit to take up the post. Those concerns have now been addressed and The Lions Board is delighted that Warren will lead the Tour to Australia next year.
“Warren has an outstanding record as a coach and has been fully embedded in rugby in the UK and Ireland since 1989. His achievements include steering Wasps to English and European club success and more recently he has overseen Wales to two Grand Slam titles and a semi-final at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.”
“Importantly he was one of Ian McGeehan’s specialist coaches on the 2009 Lions Tour to South Africa so has an intimate knowledge of The Lions, the challenges they face and the processes that need to be put in place to ensure the squad has every chance of being successful”
Gatland’s Coaching History
Warren Gatland has enjoyed a varied and successful coaching history both domestically and internationally. He started his international coaching career with Ireland is credited with putting together the team that ultimately went on to win the Triple Crown and subsequently the Grand Slam.
Gatland was replaced by Eddie O’Sullivan in 2008 and he went on to become Wasps head coach. At Wasps he struck up the early seeds of his coaching partnerships, joining forces with Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley who was still playing at the time. Gatland won three premiership titles and the Heineken Cup during his time in London.
He returned to New Zealand in 2006 to take up a position with his home province Waikato, leading them to the NPC championship before Wales came calling in 2007. Wales had crashed out of the Rugby World Cup in France at the pool stages and were in a state of disarray, despite the undoubted abilities of the players at their disposal.
Gatland’s revival was immediate. They secured the Grand Slam at the first attempt in 2008, and repeated the feat again this year following a highly successful World Cup campaign in New Zealand where they exited at the Semi Final stage which was the furthest Wales had got in the competition since the inaugural Rugby World Cup competition in 1987.
His achievements in 2008, led him to be invited to join Ian McGeechan’s British & Irish Lions coaching team in 2009. Together with Edwards, Howley and Graham Rowntree, the Lions coaching team led the team to a narrow 2-1 series loss in South Africa.
The support coaching team is due to be announced in October 2012. Gatland indicated at his press conference that he would be looking for continuity in his coaching team from 2009 through to 2013 so this would seem to indicate he would be looking to retain Edwards and Rowntree for a second time. It is unclear whether Howley will also return as a Lions coach.