British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland looks set to name Wales’ interim head coach Rob Howley on his coaching ticket for the summer tour of New Zealand.
The announcement, due this week, has been met with frustration and consternation within the Wales rugby fraternity as with Gatland and now Howley both gone, Wales’ summer tour of the Pacific Islands must be planned for without a coach.
To date, offers of coaching roles have been rejected by Ireland mastermind Joe Schmidt and Scotland’s head coach-elect Gregor Townsend, leaving Gatland to once again turn to his Wales assistant to take on the role of attack coach, as he did during the Lions’ successful tour of Australia in 2013.
Schmidt and Townsend have both chosen to focus on the long build towards the 2019 World Cup in Japan and see next summer as a critical part of the planning process.
Now, as reported by BBC Sport, Gatland’s selection of Howley has seen Wales rugby legend Jonathan Davis cry foul and publicly state that he believes Howley should be focusing on Wales and not the Lions next summer.
“He should look after the Welsh squad.
“The Welsh Rugby Union should say ‘look, you shouldn’t go’ because they’ve lost one coach and now they’re going to lose another one.
“That’s very detrimental to the Welsh side going on a tough tour.
“Also, whoever does do it and does a good job, it’s detrimental to Howley as well.”
While the Lions completed a winning series last time out under Gatland and Howley, Wales rugby is not the side it was three years ago. Then, the Lions squad was in essence a Welsh side with a smattering of English, Irish and the odd Scot.
This year it is expected that England will contribute the bulk of the squad, leaving Wales to plan for their summer tests with Tonga and Samoa, a crucial series that will give the squad a chance to regroup following a difficult year.
While the 2017 Six Nations will certainly provide Howley the opportunity to restore the winning mentality to the squad, the summer tour will be seen as a chance to cement any lessons learned and gains made.
Continuity at the top is essential for this to happen but with Gatland and now Howley nowhere to be seen, it seems that Davis is right to be concerned. There is a very real chance that 2017 might be a season lost to Wales, something that could well be to the detriment of their World Cup ambitions.
Gatland will announce his coaching lineup on Wednesday in Dublin, at which point Wales’ fate will become clear.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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