Warren Gatland may spring surprise with Lions staff

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
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Current Wales interim head coach Rob Howley is set to be named as an assistant coach for next summer’s British and Irish Lions tour of New 
Zealand when the back-room line-up is revealed in Dublin today.

Lions head coach Warren
Gatland’s is also considering former England internationals Andy Farrell and Steve Borthwick for assistant roles, while Wales’ record international points-scorer Neil Jenkins is top contender for the role of kicking specialist.

However, Gatland may yet spring a surprise in terms of his attack-coach options, 
having previously indicated that he could travel with two people heading up the tourists’ attacking strategy.

Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend had been firmly in the frame, but he takes over from Vern Cotter as Scotland head coach at the end of this season and will lead their summer tour of Australia instead.

Rumours have been rife in the last few days that Gatland could bolster his staff with another big-hitter.

Former England and Fiji 
sevens coach Ben Ryan is possibly on the radar, while Saracens’ trophy double-winning rugby director Mark McCall also has many admirers.

Ryan is regarded as an innovative rugby thinker, establishing himself as England’s most successful sevens coach in history before taking charge of Fiji and leading them to world series glory and then capturing Olympic gold in Rio four months ago.

Gatland’s long-held view is that, to have any realistic chance against world champions New Zealand, any opponent must be prepared to play, rather than contain, and it may be that Ryan or McCall fit the bill.

Technical and operational staff for the Lions’ first New Zealand trip since they suffered a painful Test series whitewash in 2005 are set to be announced early next month, with the squad itself due on April 19.

“It is another important step on the road to New Zealand,” tour manager John Spencer told the Lions’ official website ahead of Wednesday’s unveiling in Dublin.

“The success of any British and Irish Lions tour depends on having a quality coaching group, and we are very confident that the people we will name on Wednesday can help deliver a Test series win.

“A 10-match tour of New Zealand requires toughness, as well as technical knowledge, and we firmly believe that the characters we have identified as the men to bring on board are exactly what is needed for the upcoming tour.”

Farrell, 41, enjoyed a glittering rugby league career before switching codes and winning eight England caps in 2007. He went on to become England defence coach, but left that role following last year’s dismal World Cup showing. He was then appointed as Ireland’s defence coach, helping to oversee an away victory over South Africa and then a spectacular success against world champions New Zealand in Chicago, before a memorable autumn campaign concluded by Ireland defeating Australia.

Farrell, left, was a key part of Gatland’s support team during the Lions’ 2-1 Test series victory over Australia in 2013, while Howley is also set to return for more, having been a member of the coaching staff Down Under three years ago and on the 2009 trip to South Africa.

Ex-England skipper Borthwick would be a Lions newcomer, but he has made a considerable impression during England’s revival under their Australian head coach Eddie Jones. Borthwick, who won 57 caps and made almost 400 appearances for Bath and Saracens, worked with Jones during Japan’s memorable 2015 World Cup campaign that included defeating South Africa, before joining him last December after Jones was appointed as England boss.

England went unbeaten in 2016, claiming the Six Nations title in Grand Slam fashion, beating Australia three times Down Under and then winning all four autumn Tests.