It was widely considered an excellent signing when the Chiefs announced that Warren Gatland would be returning home in 2020 to coach the Waikato-based side.
Couple his obvious strengths as a coach with his strong ties to the region – he won the NPC with Waikato back in 2006 – and he’s a perfect fit for the Chiefs.
Gatland’s four-year appointment came with a few stipulations, however.
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That role will directly take him away from the Chiefs for a whole season, but Gatland will also be spending plenty of time in 2020 watching, analysis and assessing the talent he’ll have at his disposal in Europe.
Gatland, the consummate professional that he is, won’t be doing a half-arsed job for the Chiefs by any means, but he’ll be effectively working one-and-a-half roles throughout the year.
“Having him back in New Zealand for a year, not sure how that’s going to work, because he’s going to do the (British and Irish) Lions after that,” said Hansen after New Zealand’s bronze medal victory over Wales.
“So not a lot of continuity for him or the Chiefs, but I’m sure he’ll work his way through that.”
It will make for a difficult time for the Chiefs, with the impact being further amplified by Gatland’s late entrance to the role.
Naturally, Gatland’s entire focus this year will have been on Wales and their World Cup campaign. It’s expected that Gatland will take at least some time off before jumping straight back into the coach’s seat – but that will prove somewhat problematic for the Chiefs.
On November 30, Gatland will take charge of the Barbarians in a match against Wales, who will be operating under new coach Wayne Pivac for the first time.
Despite the carnival nature of the match, Gatland will still need to spend some time strategising and coaching with his Barbarians squad before game day.
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Super Rugby pre-season will then be well underway in December – which won’t leave one of world rugby’s busiest coaches with much downtime.
Furthermore, the New Zealand Super sides will confirm their squads for 2020 on November 12th and you have to question how prominent a role Gatland had in the recruitment and signing process.
At best, Gatland’s assistants for 2020 will have been doing the rounds, compiling information to send over to Gatland so that he can have the final say.
Of course, we still don’t have much transparency over who Gatland’s assistants actually are, with Tabai Matson the only coach from 2019 who is ‘confirmed’ to still be a part of the set-up.
The Chiefs’ 2019 campaign was hindered by injuries but questions were also raised over Colin Cooper’s player recruitment strategies.
In the Chiefs’ glory years of 2012 and 2013 under Dave Rennie, on-the-nose recruitment played a big part in the team’s success. It’s hard to imagine that a similarly robust recruitment process will play a role in the Chiefs’ 2020 campaign.
2021 will then see the reins handed elsewhere – again, it’s unknown who Gatland has in his coaching team just yet – with Gatland taking his leave for the Lions tour.
That really leaves the Waikato man with just two years of fulltime preparation and coaching. It’s not an ideal set-up by any means, but it sounds like Gatland didn’t have a huge amount of say in the matter.
Gatland originally hoped to take some time off between Wales’ World Cup campaign and the Lions tour, but it wasn’t to be.
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“I got an approach from the Chiefs and felt if I didn’t take that role, then it wouldn’t be there after the Lions,” Gatland said.
“Thankfully the NZ rugby union allowed me to take a year’s sabbatical, so it will be a real challenge.”
It leaves the Chiefs faced with an incredibly disrupted couple of years ahead of them.
As if Gatland has been dining on unicorn blood straight from the wound of New Zealand Rugby, he will be living a half-life with the Chiefs, with one eye on what’s going on in Super Rugby and the other focussed intently on the Northern Hemisphere.
It’s a problem that will affect both the New Zealand franchise and the British and Irish Lions.
Throughout history, the Lions have always employed a coach who has been based in the Northern Hemisphere.
For Gatland’s previous two tours, he was firmly entrenched in the rugby up north thanks to his role with Wales.
In 2009, Ian McGeechan, who was head coach at the London Wasps, took charge of the Lions.
Clive Woodward, who took the Lions to New Zealand in 2005, had been head coach of England until 2004.
One way or another, it’s hard not to see the Lions’ preparation suffering under the current arrangement. If it doesn’t, then you’d have to think that the Chiefs will be left to deal with the consequences.
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