Wales coach Warren Gatland said the schedule for the forthcoming British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand is so tough that he would think twice before accepting the honour – but admitted it would be “difficult” to turn the job down.
Gatland has questioned the scheduling which sees the Lions play their first match just a week after the Aviva Premiership and Guinness PRO12 finals, on a 10-match tour that includes five matches against the Super Rugby sides and three Tests against the reigning world champions.
The Lions have not won a Test series there since 1971 and though Gatland is seen as one of the two front-runners for the post alongside Ireland’s Joe Schmidt, he joked Schmidt can have the gig such is the rigorous schedule. The identity of the next Lions coach is far from straightforward as Schmidt’s contract with the IRFU prevents him taking the recommended yearlong sabbatical in the run-up, while Gatland has his own reservations.
“He can have the job if he wants,” Gatland joked at the launch of the RBS 6 Nations. “Have you seen the schedule? Going to New Zealand and you play three Tests, five Super Rugby teams and the New Zealand Maori, and you try and win there? With no preparation? He can have it.
“It’s a really tough tour. I’m not saying the Lions can’t win. It’s a tough schedule. It’s the hardest place in the world to play, not just from a rugby perspective but a travel and organisation perspective. Look, it’s not unwinnable but it is very, very tough.”
Warren Gatland knows what it takes to be successful with the British & Irish Lions. Chris Harris/WPA Pool/Getty Images
Sources have told ESPN that after the last Lions tour head coaches of the home nations put forward their suggested schedules for the 2017 trip, but the Lions organisers made the final call on the itinerary, one which sees a relentless pace to the trip.
Gatland knows what it takes to win a series having guided the tourists to a 2-1 series win over the Wallabies in 2013 but he is solely focused on Wales at present.
“When you look at the schedule you go: Premiership Final on the Saturday, the PRO12 on the Saturday,” Gatland said. “The team has a going away dinner on the Sunday. Fly on the Monday, you arrive the Wednesday and your first game is on that Saturday with the squad not even being together?
“Then you play a Test match two or three weeks later? It’s quite tough. I have been very lucky to be involved in a couple of tours and if you get offered the opportunity to be involved again it is a difficult one to turn down. But if you weren’t involved and didn’t get it you might say: ‘thank my lucky stars’, and go and enjoy it as a supporter and spectator and enjoy it from that angle.
“I am a great believer in what will be. I am not thinking about the Lions. Our focus is on the Six Nations and then a tour of New Zealand in the summer. If you do well in those, other things take care of themselves. That is the way my rugby coaching career has been. I haven’t got a rugby CV. I wouldn’t know how to put one together.
“I have been lucky enough to be the right place at the right time and what will be, will be.”
ESPN.com – RUGBY