Lions boss Gatland ready for 'hell of a challenge'
Warren Gatland said he was ready for a “hell of a challenge” after being appointed head coach of the British and Irish Lions for next year’s tour of Australia.
The New Zealander, currently coach of Wales, will be looking to lead the Lions — a combined side made up of players from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland — to their first Test series win in 16 years following their 1997 success in South Africa.
“There is no question it is one hell of a challenge,” Gatland, who has led Wales to two Six Nations Grand Slams and the semi-finals of last year’s World Cup, told a news conference in London on Tuesday. “Playing in the southern hemisphere is one of rugby’s hardest challenges.”
Gatland said coaching the Lions was a “massive responsibility”.
“It’s a responsibility to the players and coaches that have gone before me and to 125 years of Lions history,” he explained.
“For a player it is the pinnacle of their career. It is the same for the coaches involved.
“This is the highest honour, to be selected as the Lions coach.
“It is the pinnacle of anyone’s coaching career.”
Gatland, an assistant to then head coach Ian McGeechan when the Lions lost in South Africa in 2009, also said: “I really enjoyed the experience as one of the assistant coaches in 2009 and since then have harboured ambitions to lead the tour to Australia next year.
“The Lions came close in South Africa and our ambition is to win the series in 2013, and I believe we have the players to do that.”
Tour manager Andy Irvine, the former Scotland and Lions full-back, said of Gatland’s appointment: “Warren has an outstanding record as a coach and has been fully embedded in rugby in the UK and Ireland since 1989.
“His achievements include steering Wasps to English and European club success and more recently he has overseen Wales to two Grand Slams and a semi-final at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
“He has an intimate knowledge of the Lions, the challenges they face and the processes that need to be put in place to ensure the squad had every chance of being successful,” Irvine added.
Gatland will be the second overseas coach of the Lions following fellow Kiwi Graham Henry, in charge during the 2-1 series defeat in Australia in 2001.
The 2013 tour begins against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1 before they play the first of three Tests against Australia in Brisbane on June 22.
Gatland, 48, who played against the Lions, will coach Wales in their November Tests against New Zealand and Australia but otherwise he will be seconded full-time to his new post.
He is expected to confirm his full Lions coaching team in October.
The Lions had initially planned to announce their head coach in April but were forced into a delay after Gatland broke both his heels in a fall at his home in Waikato.
“It has been no secret that after the initial selection process, Warren was our preferred candidate,” Irvine said.
“We naturally had to ensure he was fit to take up the post. Those concerns have now been addressed.”
As a hooker, Gatland was denied a Test cap by having to play second fiddle to All Blacks great Sean Fitzpatrick but he did play against the Lions for Waikato.
Gatland made his name as a coach in Ireland by revitalising an under-performing Connacht side.
That led to him getting the Ireland job before, after a promising start, he was sacked in 2001.
Undaunted, Gatland made his way to Wasps, whom he guided to three successive English Premiership titles and the 2004 European Cup.
A brief spell at his native Waikato followed before he promptly led Wales to a Grand Slam in his first season in charge.
“I have coached in Ireland, in London with Wasps and with Wales. That gives me an understanding of the different cultures and it will be important bringing the four countries together,” Gatland said.
Rob Howley led Wales on their recent tour of Australia in Gatland’s injury-enforced absence and will continue as caretaker coach through the 2013 Six Nations.