Rugby’s worst kept secret was confirmed in Edinburgh today when Warren Gatland was named as head coach of the British and Irish Lions’ tour of New Zealand.
The Wales coach will lead the composite side on the three-Test tour. The announcement was made at the Standard Life headquarters in the Scottish capital.
“It’s a huge honour,” Gatland said. “It’s probably the biggest job in world rugby against the toughest opposition in world rugby.”
Double world champions New Zealand have won their last 43 consecutive Test matches at home.
Gatland will be participating in a third successive Lions 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.
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.
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.”
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 RBS 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.
2017 Lions tour fixtures
3 June v Provincial Union XV
7 June v Blues
10 June v Crusaders
13 June v Highlanders
17 June v Maori All Blacks
20 June v Chiefs
24 June v New Zealand, FIRST TEST
27 June v Hurricanes
1 July v New Zealand, SECOND TEST
8 July v New Zealand, THIRD TEST