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Clause leans Lions towards Gatland

22nd October 2010 15:07

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Warren Gatland Wales press

Timely clause: Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland will be free to coach the 2013 British & Irish Lions on tour in Australia after it emerged his new Wales contract contains a timely five-month break clause.

Gatland plans to appoint a junior coaching team to lead Wales on their tour to Japan that summer after the Welsh Rugby Union agreed he could take a sabbatical.

The former All Blacks hooker insisted the Lions did not feature in negotiations over his four-year deal and that he just wanted a chance to spend some time back in New Zealand.

But Gatland is considered to be one of the leading candidates to take charge of the Lions in 2013 - and he refused to rule out the possibility.

"Part of my contract negotiations included being able to spend some time back in New Zealand," said Gatland, Lions forwards coach on their epic 2009 Test series defeat in South Africa.

"Wales have agreed that for 2013, while the Lions are touring and Wales play Japan for a couple of games, I could appoint some younger coaches which would enable me to spend four or five months back in New Zealand.

"For a Lions team to be successful is incredibly hard. It was a fantastic experience and an honour and a privilege to be involved with the players. To do it again? We'll just have to see."

The fact Gatland is technically available in the summer of 2013 opens the door for him to be considered for the Lions job, though there remain further hurdles to clear.

Tour manager Andy Irvine said earlier this week it was unlikely any of the home nations coaches would be considered unless they could secure at least partial release from the 2013 Six Nations.

"We'll be speaking to the WRU to see what level of commitment he must give to them as opposed to the Lions," Irvine said.

"It's theoretically possible to coach the Lions and be the head coach of a national side in the Six Nations immediately prior, but it's unlikely.

"If we weren't looking for a complete release of Warren by the WRU, then certainly a partial release."

Ian McGeechan, the Bath performance director who has been Lions head coach four times, is also a leading candidate for the job.

But England prop Phil Vickery, a two-time Lions tourists, threw his considerable weight behind Gatland's credentials.

"I've done two Lions tours and I think Warren would be a fantastic candidate to do it again. And I hope he does. He's a guy who I have the utmost respect for," said Vickery.

"He's a typical Kiwi. He's honest, sometimes brutally, but you can be honest back. He gets the guys together and gets the best out of people. I really hope he does it again because it's very, very special."