WALES coach Warren Gatland has received an offer to lead the British and Irish Lions on their tour of Australia next year.
It is understood that Gatland was interviewed for the role of head coach in London last week.
The 48-year-old New Zealander is the outstanding candidate for the role after guiding Wales to a second RBS Six Nations Grand Slam in his four-year tenure and has previous Lions experience having been part of the backroom staff for the 2009 tour to South Africa under Ian McGeechan.
The Lions plan to unveil their choice for head coach at the end of April or the start of May, and it is understood that initial talks have been held between Gatland, the Lions and the Welsh Rugby Union regarding the terms of his release from Wales duty for the tour.
One of the key areas of discussion will be whether Gatland takes charge of Wales for their autumn international schedule later this year.
The Lions would ideally like their head coach to be available for a 12-month period prior to the trip Down Under. The ten-match, five-week tour starts in June next year.
Gatland is set to head to Australia when Wales tour there in June, which could prove valuable in terms of preparation for taking the cream of British and Irish rugby back there next year, and the WRU are understood to be keen for him to also be in charge come November, before stepping aside for the 2013 RBS Six Nations.
WRU chief executive Roger Lewis said: “We have had informal discussions with the British and Irish Lions over the last few months and we have talked to Warren about this for the best part of a year.
“Warren does not have a clause in his contract which contains provision for him to coach the Lions, but we are hugely supportive of him and them.
“What I will say is that there is no question that Warren will not be leading Wales on our very important tour to Australia and I, personally, would like him to be involved in our autumn Tests against New Zealand and Australia in Cardiff.”
Should he land the Lions job, Gatland may choose to include Wales assistants Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley, and England forwards coach Graham Rowntree, who all went to South Africa in 2009, in his coaching team.
Gatland would also become just the second overseas coach to take charge of the world’s most famous touring side.
His fellow New Zealander and then Wales coach Graham Henry led the 2001 tour to Australia, where the Lions lost the series 2-1 despite an emphatic first Test win in Brisbane.
Scotland coach Andy Robinson was also a candidate for the Lions post earlier this year, but a whitewash in the Six Nations ruined his chances of getting the top job. The Scottish Rugby Union was prepared to lose Robinson for a year despite the coach being under contract to 2015, and the arrival of new assistant coach Scott Johnson was partly designed to offer cover for Robinson in the event of the Englishman taking a sabbatical.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney was also under consideration for the post, but Gatland’s impressive 100 per cent record with Wales made it hard to see past the New Zealander.
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