Warren Gatland named Lions coach for NZ tour and issues warning to players: ‘If you believe we haven’t got a chance, don’t get on the plane’

Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland has been appointed head coach for the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

The 52-year-old Kiwi fills the role for the second time after masterminding a 2-1 series victory over Australia three years ago and will begin a sabbatical from his position as Wales boss immediately.

Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland mastermined victory over Australia in 2013 CREDIT:GETTY IMAGES

“Coaching the Lions is a great privilege. The 2013 tour was a real career highlight for me and I’m honoured to be offered the role again,” Gatland said.

Gatland will be at the helm for the toughest assignment in the game with a three-Test series against the All Blacks the culmination of a 10-fixture tour that includes five games against Super Rugby opposition and a clash with the Maori.

The Lions have prevailed just once in 11 previous visits to New Zealand – John Dawes’ 1971 tourists triumphed 2-1 – and were demolished in their last meeting with the All Blacks in 2005.

Gatland, who was also part of Sir Ian McGeechan’s coaching team in South Africa seven years ago, is convinced the tourists can prevail against the odds.

Warren Gatland and Sir Ian McGeechan
Warren Gatland (left) and Sir Ian McGeechan (centre)

“I know from having been in New Zealand recently how much excitement there is ahead of next year,” Gatland said.

“For the All Blacks a Lions series is the ultimate test, but I’m 100 per cent confident that we can go and win in New Zealand.”

Gatland will finalise the make-up of his own coaching team before the end of the year.

 

“The chance to work with the best players from the four Home Nations is a coach’s dream and we have some outstanding talent to select from,” Gatland said.

“Likewise, there are some outstanding coaches who could potentially be involved and we’ll look to announce them in December.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how they and the players get on domestically, in Europe and internationally.”

Gatland, who has won two Grand Slams with Wales, departs for New Zealand on Thursday to begin plotting the All Blacks’ downfall and will be accompanied by tour manager John Spencer.

1:07pm

A history of the Lions in New Zealand

1:01pm

Who will start for the Lions?

Tough one this. But PA have had a bash and it’s hard to disagree with any of their selections…

15: Stuart Hogg (Scotland) – a brilliant counter-attacker who would light up any back division, but will Welshman Leigh Halfpenny’s prolific goalkicking edge it in selection?

14: Anthony Watson (England) – a proven high-quality finisher, who has scored 12 tries in 24 Tests for England.

13: Jonathan Joseph (England) – an outside centre in the classic mode, he offers pace, creativity and try-scoring prowess.

Jonathan Joseph
CREDIT: AFP

12: Robbie Henshaw (Ireland) – has all the skills, with defensive power to match. Star quality, but could be a toss of the coin between him and Wales’ Jamie Roberts.

11: George North (Wales) – had his injury troubles, but a proven top-level performer who is capable of terrorising any defence.

10: Owen Farrell (England) – George Ford, Dan Biggar and Johnny Sexton are all set to be in the fly-half mix, but Farrell is currently a short distance ahead of them.

Owen Farrell
CREDIT: EPA

9: Rhys Webb (Wales) – Ireland’s Conor Murray is likely to push hard for a Test spot, yet Webb’s all-round game nudges him clear.

1: Mako Vunipola (England) – arguably England’s most improved forward of the Eddie Jones coaching reign. Powerful and consistent.

2: Dylan Hartley (England) – has led England superbly since being appointed captain by Eddie Jones. Also the best hooker in Britain and Ireland by a proverbial mile.

3: WP Nel (Scotland) – the South Africa-born tighthead prop is an immense scrummager, and just the set-piece cornerstone Gatland will require, as is England’s Dan Cole. Tight call.

WP Nel
CREDIT: REX FEATURES

4: Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) – skippered the Lions to victory in the third Test decider against Australia three years ago, and should keep the job. World-class in every area.

5: George Kruis (England) – has produced magnificent form in England colours. An exemplary lineout operator with a mighty work-rate.

6: Maro Itoje (England) – might be a lock for England, but blindside flanker for the Lions? Too good to be left out of Gatland’s Test team.

7: Sam Warburton (Wales) – a fit and in-form Warburton is head and shoulders above anyone else as the best openside flanker available to Gatland. Class act.

8: Taulupe Faletau (Wales) – the battle for Test selection with England’s Billy Vunipola will be fascinating, but Faletau is a more complete footballer.

12:56pm

Is Warburton after the Lions captaincy?

Looks like Wales skipper Sam Warburton is saying all the right things already (some might call it brown-nosing).

“He (Gatland) brings experience and the fact that he’s been on a winning Lions tour already (makes him the right choice).

Sam Warburton
Sam Warburton (right) with Warren Gatland CREDIT: PAUL GROVER

“They were extremely unlucky not to do a bit better out in South Africa. So I think the one thing when I was on the Lions tour in 2013 was making sure everybody – this is what we were told as players – appreciate the jersey and the history of the jersey.

“And I think Warren has got a bit of a head start from that point of view, having had two tours under his belt already.”

12:49pm

“Smile”

Pictures are starting to flood in involving Gatland, important Lions people and a stuffed toy…

Warren Gatland
CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
Warren Gatland
CREDIT: REX FEATURES
Warren Gatland
CREDIT: REX FEATURES
Warren Gatland
CREDIT: REX FEATURES
Warren Gatland
CREDIT: REX FEATURES
Warren Gatland
CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
Warren Gatland
CREDIT: PA
12:37pm

Gatland in numbers…

12:33pm

Picking the right players

When asked about the make-up of his squad, this is what Gatland said:

“One of the challenges for me as the coach is often you are picking players who are used to being number one in their own position at their club and for the their nation, and sometimes you come together in a Lions set-up, and you could be number two or three.

“You are looking for people who are positive characters who can handle disappointment, sometimes, and be part of the squad. The make-up of the personnel is going to be incredibly important, and we will be looking closely at making sure we pick the right people.”

Which county will dominate as far as numbers go? Who will the wildcards be? Send me your thoughts at [email protected]

12:28pm

‘The British are coming, the British are coming’

The Lions expect a ‘red army’ of 30,000 to follow them to NZ, to be supplemented by ex-pats there and in Oz. The Airbnb website isn’t going to know what’s hit it!

12:22pm

Who is on the plane to New Zealand?

The big question now is: who will Gatland pick for the tour?

It’s always fun to ‘play Gats’ and select your own squad and I had a go myself after the summer internationals based on form and pedigree.

Would I make any changes? Maybe one or two. Leigh Halfpenny probably comes back in after his return from injury. But here’s who I picked at the time…

12:17pm

WATCH! Gatland talks all things Lions…

12:15pm

The hard work starts now

Gatland flies to New Zealand tomorrow and will be at the All Blacks v Argentina match in Hamilton on the weekend for his first scouting mission.

“I fly out to New Zealand tomorrow to do a reccie in terms of looking at hotels and training venues. I will get a chance to see the All Blacks on Saturday in Hamilton against Argentina, and then next week in Christchurch against South Africa.”

Gatland on how NZ view the Lions…

“I know from having been in New Zealand recently how much excitement there is ahead of next year.

“For the All Blacks a Lions series is the ultimate test, but I’m 100 per cent confident that we can go and win in New Zealand.”

12:10pm

Gatland on the Lions’ chances…

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we had the ability to go to New Zealand and win. The autumn series, Six Nations and club form is very important and the players know this and know how special this tour will be.”

12:08pm

Gatland on selecting his support staff…

“We need continuity. There’s limited preparation time but it’s also important to bring in fresh face and fresh ideas. We are looking to name the backroom staff on December 7.”

12:07pm

Gatland on selection issues…

“You need players of great ability in the toughest environment. I am looking for positive characters, who handle disappointment and can be part of the squad.

“The chance to work with the best players from the four Home Nations is a coach’s dream and we have some outstanding talent to select from.

“Likewise, there are some outstanding coaches who could potentially be involved and we’ll look to announce them in December.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how they and the players get on domestically, in Europe and internationally.”

12:06pm

Gatland has arrived. Here’s what he has to say…

“It’s a huge honour. It’s the biggest job in world rugby against the best opposition and when offered the challenge it’s very hard to say no.

“I have massive pride in taking the Lions to my own country, to lead the team against the back-to-back world champions in their own back yard, there is no bigger honour.”

11:57am

How the story broke early

As mentioned earlier, Gatland has been nailed on to get the Lions gig for some time now and this picture snapped yesterday of Gats posing up against a wall in his Lions top was the final confirmation…

Warren Gatland
CREDIT: TWITTER
11:52am

‘The most arduous tour’

It’s fair to say the Lions are going to have a tough time of it in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Especially when you factor in that even the mid-week games will be of international standard thanks to the NZRU’s decision to allow All Blacks to play for their Super Rugby sides.

Here’s the Lions’ tour schedule…

11:43am

Leader of the pack!

So, the worst kept secret in rugby is finally going to be told this lunchtime (midday) when the British & Irish Lions announce thatWarren Gatland will lead next summer’s tour to New Zealand at a press conference in Edinburgh.

Gatland will participate in a third successive tour and his second as head coach after masterminding the 2-1 series victory over Australia in 2013, the Lions’ first success for 16 years.

Warren Gatland

The 52-year-old Kiwi will begin his sabbatical from his job as Wales boss immediately by travelling to New Zealand on Thursday, accompanied by tour manager John Spencer, to begin planning.

The arduous 10-fixture schedule facing the Lions has grown even more challenging with the news that All Blacks will be selected by their Super Rugby teams for the early tour matches.

It means the Blues, Highlanders and Crusaders will be at, or close to, full strength with the trio of fixtures taking place over seven days from June 7 to June 13.

Chiefs v Hurricanes
The Lions will take on next to full-strength Super Rugby sides CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

In recent history, internationals have been rested to keep them fresh to face the Lions in the Test series, but selector Grant Fox insists New Zealand will adopt a different approach for 2017.

“The Super Rugby sides will be loaded up with All Blacks early because there’s a bit of time from game one to the first Test,” Fox told The New Zealand Herald.

“They need to play and then as we get closer to the Tests some of those franchises will have less access to the All Blacks as we start preparing for the series.”

All Blacks
The All Blacks thrashed the Lions in 2005 CREDIT: AP

The tour includes five fixtures against Super Rugby sides with the Chiefs and Hurricanes completing the list, an opener against a provincial union team, a clash with the New Zealand Maori and three Tests.

Gatland expressed his concern about the schedule shortly before the Six Nations in January, when he and Ireland’s Joe Schmidt were the leading contenders for the position.

“It’s a really tough tour. I’m not saying the Lions can’t win, it’s just a tough schedule,” Gatland said.

[Source:-Telegraph]