Lions CEO John Feehan has confirmed that the coach for the 2013 tour to Australia will be announced after the 6N’s. It would appear that the choice is between Warren Gatland, Andy Robinson and Declan Kidney, with Ian McGeechan always a possibility.While Robinson and Kidney are quality coaches with some notable successes, surely the position is Gatland’s to lose.
Some will no doubt cite the 2001 tour of Australia under Graham Henry as evidence that an overseas coach is wrong for the Lions. This is nonsense. Yes, Henry is the only foreigner to ever coach the Lions and ultimately the tour resulted in a lost series. However, in discussion with Mark Reason on The Rugby Site, Henry acknowledged the mistakes that he made. He wasn’t helped by Matt Dawson and Austin Healey breaking tour protocol with critical comments of Henry in the media during the Test series.
While not overly successful during his 3 year tenure with Ireland, Warren Gatland took Wasps from bottom of the Premiership to 3 consecutive championships (2003, 2004 & 2005) and a Heineken Cup victory in 2004. His return to International rugby as Wales coach was marked by a Grand Slam in 2008 and last years World Cup saw Wales narrowly beaten semi-finalists, its best result since the inaugural tournament in 1987.
Gatland understands the dynamics of Lions rugby from his role as assistant coach in 2009 and having coached in Britain & Ireland for 20 of the last 22 years he will appreciate the different cultures and personalities that will make up the touring squad. He is a brave coach and prepared to be innovative in his approach as evidenced by the Welsh training camps in Poland last year which saw the squad have daily sessions in cryotherapy chambers. This was said to have contributed to the exceptional fitness levels displayed by the team at the RWC. His selection of the 22 year old Sam Warburton as Wales captain was a bold but very successful decision.
Gatland’s contract with Wales allows for him to take time out to coach the Lions in 2013 were he to get the opportunity. As things currently stand his appointment is surely a no-brainer.