Chiefs head coach Warren Gatland has revealed he would “absolutely” like to return to the Hamilton franchise next year should the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa be cancelled.

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Gatland will leave his post with the Chiefs next season to take the helm of the Lions for a third consecutive tour after leading them to a series win against the Wallabies in 2013 and a series draw against the All Blacks in 2017.

He is then expected to return to see out the final two years of his four-year deal with the two-time Super Rugby champions, with Maori All Blacks and Bay of Plenty coach Clayton McMillan signing a one-year contract to fill the void left by Gatland next season.

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Aaron Mauger speaks to media

Should the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to wreak havoc in South Africa, force the cancellation of the tour to the Republic, Gatland said he would relish the opportunity to return to the Chiefs.

The Lions tour was given the go-ahead three weeks ago to allow some “certainty” for the multitude of fans expected to travel from the United Kingdom.

However, with over half a million coronavirus cases in South Africa, there is plenty of uncertainty about the feasibility of the eight-match tour, which is scheduled to kick-off against the Stormers in Cape Town on July 3.

“It’s something we haven’t talked about. I’d have to do it for free, probably, I won’t get paid,” Gatland said when asked on Friday if he would like to stay involved in the Chiefs’ plans next season if the Lions tour is called off.

“But absolutely. In these last seven or eight weeks I’ve learnt a lot about the players, and what sort of things you’d do differently, what things you would continue with.

“Working with the other coaches, hopefully the things that we’ve learnt collectively will be beneficial for next year.

“So [if he’s with the Lions] it’s going to be a challenge. Would I like that continuity? I would. But we’re still day by day and we’re seeing what’s going to be happening in that space going forward.”

Gatland will head to the UK early next month ahead of the 2020-21 domestic season as he begins to prepare for the tour as the Lions eye their first series win over the Springboks since 1997.

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The Chiefs, meanwhile, will look to register their first Super Rugby Aotearoa win in their final game of the season against the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday.

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