Wales head coach Warren Gatland will leave the post he has occupied since 2007 to return to his native New Zealand after next year’s Lions tour, according to reports.
The Daily Mail says that Gatland has informed close friends of his decision, which will alarm many Welsh fans already preparing themselves for a Six Nations campaign with a makeshift coaching team after Gatland’s year long sabbatical.
Although himself based in Wales, Gatland’s family are still living in New Zealand and the Hamilton-born coach only sees his wife and children four times a year. Indeed, Gatland’s son Bryn is a promising fly-half in the country and could well yet line up for the Lions representing Auckland’s Blues Super Rugby team.
Whilst the decision ultimately has a personal basis to it, some supporters will see this as a chance for New Zealander Gatland to push for his case to replace Steve Hansen as All Blacks coach.
Hansen is set to resign after the next World Cup having been part of the national team’s back room staff since 2004 and head coach since 2012 after Graham Henry stepped down – overseeing the side’s unprecedented run of form that saw them become the first team to retain the William Webb Ellis Cup in 2015.
Previously, NZRU rules have meant the head coach of the All Blacks had to have been actively coaching in the country in the last 12 months. With Gatland back in his homeland and working with a team there, he would become a very attractive option for the All Blacks’ governing body considering his record in the northern hemisphere.
However, for Wales supporters it will mean a frantic search to find a suitable new head coach – with Wasps’ Dai Youngs likely to be one of the leading candidates, as well as previous acting head coach Rob Howley.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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