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Gatland named 2021 Lions boss

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'We spoke about the potential and I couldn't turn my back on the challenge'

Warren Gatland has been named as head coach of the British and Irish Lions for a third consecutive time on Wednesday. Gatland, who is stepping down from his role as Wales boss after this year’s World Cup, will lead the Lions on their 2021 tour to South Africa.

The 55-year-old Kiwi was in charge for the previous two Lions trips. He oversaw victory in Australia in 2013 and a drawn series in New Zealand two years ago. Another tour will now see him complete the set of Lions destinations in the top job, although he was also involved in the last series in South Africa, as forwards coach, in 2009. Gatland’s latest appointment was confirmed at a press conference in London.

“I’m hugely honoured and delighted to lead the Lions again,” said Gatland. “It is exciting and a great challenge to coach the best players from the four Home Nations. 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’s services have been in high demand after another successful season with Wales. Earlier this year the former Ireland coach masterminded his third Grand Slam and fourth Six Nations Championship title since taking up the Welsh reins in 2007.

Warren Gatland and his Lions coaching staff look on during the drawn 2017 Test series in New Zealand (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The Welsh are also on a record-breaking run of 14 successive victories as they embark on preparations for the World Cup finals in Japan.

It was reported last month that a verbal agreement with Gatland had been agreed by the Lions, who now have 2003 England World Cup winner Jason Leonard working as their chairman.

At one point Gatland had been favourite to succeed Eddie Jones as England coach, but this appointment will now bring an end to any such speculation. Jones is contracted with England until 2021 but with a break clause that can be activated depending on performance at the World Cup.

Gatland was also linked with taking over the France national team and guide them at the 2023 World Cup. However, a referendum of the French grassroots clubs about the appointment of a non-France resulted in them saying no to outside influence and the FFR instead appointed Fabien Galthie.

“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,” said Lions managing director Ben Calveley.

“This was a unanimous decision from the Lions board and it was important that we moved swiftly and proactively to secure Warren’s signature.

Lions boss Warren Gatland shakes hands with fans after the 2017 second Test win over New Zealand in Wellington (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“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.”

Gatland revealed at the conference he “couldn’t turn his back” on the challenge and aims to complete some unfinished business in South Africa. “I love the Lions as a concept,” he said.

“There were parts of the New Zealand tour that were incredibly challenging. Any Lions tour is probably the hardest thing you will ever do as a coach in terms of preparation and scrutiny as a coach. But one thing of reflecting back was the hospitality we had and the atmosphere of the games was incredible.

“Being a part of the Lions is an opportunity to go to South Africa and finish some unfinished business. We spoke about the potential and I couldn’t turn my back on the challenge.”

The New Zealander added that this will be his last tour as Lions head coach. When asked if it would be his final one, he said: “I think so, yeah.”

Gatland will also be involved in the planning of the trip. He said: “I’m incredibly excited about this appointment and it will give me a great opportunity to be involved in the planning and scheduling of this tour.

“The planning and scheduling hasn’t been finalised yet and negotiations are under way with how much time we’ll have together before we go away as a group on the tour. It’s a tough place to tour but I’m excited about the challenges.”

– Press Association

WATCH: Episode six of Don’t Mess with Jim, the weekly RugbyPass series hosted by former Scotland international Hamilton

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'We spoke about the potential and I couldn't turn my back on the challenge'