British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland is a contender for the coveted All Blacks coaching role in 2019.
Hamilton-born Gatland has not hidden his desire to one day lead his country and ahead of Saturday’s series decider at Eden Park, his chances have been given a boost by New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Tew lauded his fellow Kiwi’s coaching ability and winning record whilst also refusing to criticise Warrenball, the power game Gatland has become famous for.
“Put Warrenball, or whatever anyone calls it aside, Gats has been a bloody successful coach because he’s able to prepare teams to play different opposition, week in, week out, and win.
“We kicked the ball more in the first two Tests than the Lions did — and nobody was calling it Hansenball, were they?”
Ian Foster, Hansen’s assistant, is the favourite for the position, a favouritism given further credence by the All Blacks’ recent habit of promoting from within. Steve Hansen worked for eight years as Graham Henry’s assistant before taking over as head coach in 2012.
Other candidates for the biggest post in World Rugby are new Glasgow Warriors coach Dave Rennie, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt and former Scotland coach Vern Cotter, who has just taken over at Montpellier.
Hansen will hand over the reins after the 2019 World Cup, the exact time that Gatland will bring down the curtain on a 12-year term as Welsh coach.
But regardless of whatever happens on Saturday, in Tew’s eyes the tour has been a success and defeat wouldn’t be the death knell for Gatland’s candidacy, once again affirming that the 53-year-old would be in the mix.
“I don’t know why a question about Warren’s inclusion even needs to be asked.
“Whatever happens on Saturday, this Lions tour has been a success. I don’t think losing on Saturday makes anyone a better or worse coach and I think Warren’s record to now already makes him a candidate.
“Warren is an outstanding coach. He certainly wants to come back to New Zealand one day and he aspires to be the All Black coach. Clearly, he’ll be considered.”
It is difficult to find a New Zealander who would like the former Waikato hooker to take over from Hansen, who fear that he would dismantle the All Blacks’ free-flowing style of play in favour of Warrenball. But, ironically, it has been Gatland’s men who have played more of the rugby in the series thus far.
One thing is for sure, if Gatland can lead his side to a first series win in New Zealand since 1971, he will take a massive step towards fulfilling his dream.
Hefin Jones, Pundit Arena
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