THE BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS squad to tour South Africa in 2021 will be led by Warren Gatland, it has been confirmed. The New Zealander, who also took charge of the 2013 tour win in South Africa and the 2017 tied series in New Zealand, will start the job full-time on 21st August 2020, and will work exclusively with the Lions until the conclusion of the South Africa trip 12 months later.
He will be only the second person in history to take the head coach role three times, following in the footsteps of former Scotland player and coach Sir Ian McGeechan. Gatland worked under McGeechan as forwards coach on the 2009 tour to South Africa.
It had already been widely reported last month that Gatland would take on the mantle again in 2021 – which went down pretty badly north of the border where there is a widely held perception that he does not rate Scottish players. He picked only two Scots in Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour for the 2017 trip.
“It is exciting and a great challenge to coach the best players from the four Home Nations,” said the 55-year-old. “The Lions rightly have a truly special place in the game and I jumped at the chance to be involved again when I was approached about the role.
“South Africa is a special place to play rugby. They have some of the most iconic stadiums in the world which will be packed full of passionate fans, and the Springboks have shown in recent times that they are back to being one of the dominant forces in the game.
“Having toured there in 2009 I know the scale of the task ahead of us – playing in South Africa presents a number of unique challenges such as playing at altitude, while the Boks will always be physical, aggressive and highly motivated.
“History tells you it’s a tough place to tour, but I am 100 per cent confident that we can go there and win – I would not be here if I thought differently.
“I’m delighted to now have everything in place to begin full-time in August 2020 as that gives me the best possible chance to plan for South Africa, but for the time being my focus is entirely on the Rugby World Cup and delivering a successful campaign for Wales.”
Gatland is currently the longest-serving international rugby coach in the world, having led Wales since 2008. During his tenure he has led Wales to three Grand Slams and a further Six Nations title, as well as twice reaching the knock-out stages of the Rugby World Cup. Following this year’s Grand Slam victory, his side remain on a record-breaking 14-match winning run. He will step down from the Wales role after the World Cup.
He also coached Ireland from 1998 to 2001 taking his total of international level matches to 158.
Ben Calveley, managing director of the British & Irish Lions, said: “We’re delighted to have got our man; Warren is a world-class coach, boasts a proven track record, and knows the Lions better than anyone else currently coaching in world rugby – so naturally he was our first-choice candidate from the start of the process.
“This was a unanimous decision from the Lions board, and it was important that we moved swiftly and proactively to secure Warren’s signature.
“Appointing him two years ahead of time ensures Warren can also be involved in planning the logistics and scheduling elements of the tour. I’m looking forward to working alongside him to give the Lions the best chance of success in South Africa.
“The supporters are central to what make the Lions special, and with the world’s finest coach at the helm, excitement will grow even further.”
Lions chairman Jason Leonard added: “Warren’s record as a Lions coach is almost unparalleled and the challenge of quickly blending a successful team together from the four Home Nations cannot be overestimated.
“One of his greatest strengths is the ability to galvanise a group quickly, and the last two tours have shown clearly that Warren understands – and truly loves – the Lions.
“He has the skill set and the know-how to make a Lions tour work as it should, so we’re certain he is the right man to lead us to a Test series victory.
“We may be playing away in the heartland of South Africa,but I am confident that yet again, our fantastic supporters will make the matches feel like home games to the team. To me as a player, it made all the difference, and now I can’t wait to be part of the famous sea of red enjoying the tour of a lifetime.”