Lions: Warren Gatland eyes New Zealand 2017 tour

Gatland, centre, shares a joke in his final press conference before the victorious British and Irish Lions jet home. Picture: Reuters
Gatland, centre, shares a joke in his final press conference before the victorious British and Irish Lions jet home. Picture: Reuters
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Warren Gatland is open to the possibility of coaching the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand in 2017.

Gatland has masterminded the Lions’ first triumphant tour since 1997 after Australia were routed 41-16 in Saturday’s series decider at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.

The most challenging itinerary of all awaits in New Zealand in four years’ time and Gatland would consider returning to his homeland at the helm of the elite of British and Irish rugby.

“If I was given the opportunity to do the Lions in New Zealand in 2017 I would jump at that opportunity – 100 per cent,” he said after the weekend win. “It would be a massive honour and extra special to take them to my home country.”

At yesterday’s press conference before the team heads home, Gatland added: “There’s a lot of water to go under the bridge before 2017. You get opportunities in life if you’re part of successful environments and teams,” he said. “Winning a couple of grand slams with Wales and reaching the semi-final of the World Cup has given me this opportunity.

“I’m grateful for the chance and if it came up again then it’s something I might look at.”

The future of the Lions was under scrutiny when they set off for Australia in May due to their failure to win a series for 16 years, but toppling the Wallabies 2-1 has restored their credibility. However, Gatland would like to see changes made to the structure of the tour.

“The Lions are something that we need to preserve for the modern game. It’s special and it has been a privilege for me to experience it,” he said.

“It’s tougher than it was in South Africa four years ago because the game’s becoming more and more physical.

“It’s tough to put two games together, so maybe you need a break in between games to rejuvenate yourself.

“It’s important that the Lions and home unions get together to agree adequate preparation time.

“The season needs to be adjusted so that we can spend a couple of weeks in the UK preparing properly. The Lions need to be given the best possible chance to be successful for the future.

“New Zealand is harder from a logistical point of view. It wasn’t until I left there that I realised what a difficult country it is to tour because getting around is more challenging.”

Australia coach Robbie Deans, meanwhile, has refused to speculate on his future following the Wallabies’ 2-1 series defeat.

Reports have surfaced that Deans would be fired regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s decider, and it remains to be seen whether he will be in place when the Rugby Championship begins next month.

Any race to succeed Deans is between Ewan McKenzie and Jake White, but the Kiwi himself has adopted a stoical silence on his position. “Those decisions will be made by others. You don’t presume anything in this industry, who knows what will happen,” he said.

Australia captain James Horwill, who was gracious in defeat following Saturday’s mauling by the Lions, insists the players are behind their coach.

“Yes we still stand by Robbie. He’s contracted as the coach and he’s a great coach. Now’s not the time to talk about it,” he said.

Australia open their Rugby Championship campaign against New Zealand in Sydney on 17 August and whoever is at the helm must rebuild the team’s confidence. Having pegged back a 19-3 deficit, they rallied to 19-16 only to fold in the face of the Lions’ onslaught.

“I’ve got no doubt the boys will regroup. The Rugby Championship is a different competition with different opponents and a different method,” Deans said.

“The Lions play a game we’re very familiar with and we’re very conscious that we had to take them out of their comfort zone but weren’t able to do that.

“I’ve no doubt these guys will respond in the Rugby Championship. They’re too good not to.

“They’re a better side than what we saw in that final Test and that’s the disappointing thing. We came up well short.”