Wales rugby boss cools talk on Gatland as Lions coach

New Wales coach Warren Gatland is unlikely to lead the British and Irish Lions to South Africa next year, said Welsh rugby union chief executive Roger Lewis.

Gatland has impressed since taking over Wales, leading the team to Six Nations victories over England and Scotland.

But Lewis was keen to underline that Welsh rugby came before the Lions, whose players are drawn from the four ‘home nations’ of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

“When the story (linking Gatland to the Lions) broke I discussed it at length with Warren,” Lewis told BBC.

“We both agreed that the interests of Welsh rugby are paramount and if the Lions deflected from that in any way the option would not be on the table.

“It’s not really on the radar. Warren could have some Lions role, but we’d probably prefer it’s not head coach.

“Warren’s just starting with Wales and there are so many things we need to do.

“We’re just looking at our next game against Italy at the moment, but beyond the Six Nations there’s this summer’s tour to South Africa and the autumn internationals.” Lewis admitted that the “Lions are our partners, they’re part of the heritage and history of Welsh rugby, and with Gerald Davies as their manager we have great relations there”.

“But if they came knocking for Warren it would be our prerogative and right to block them.” The WRU have been in a similar conundrum before, and then allowed former coach Graham Henry to take charge of the Lions tour to Australia in 2001.

But when a number of his Welsh players failed to make the Test team it played a part in destroying Henry’s relationship with the Wales dressing room.

But another ex-Wales coach, 2005 Grand Slam winner Mike Ruddock, says that should not necessarily rule out Gatland.

“I’m sure Warren could do a fantastic job with the Lions,” said Ruddock.

“Henry’s experiences with the 2001 Lions obviously did affect his relationship with the Wales players.

“But I think people will learn from that experience. It’s a professional game, players should be able to put grudges aside and come back from a Lions tour ready to fight for their Wales place.” Lions chief executive John Feehan has said that the coach would ideally be from one of the home nations but that the selectors were keeping an open mind.

Wasps director of rugby Ian McGeechan is one of the favourites to be Lions coach, while South Africa’s 2007 World Cup-winning coach Jake White has expressed an interest.

“We have a process for naming the head coach where we review things after the Six Nations and hope to appoint in April or May,” Feehan told BBC.

“We need someone with a sense of the tradition that goes with the Lions.

“We would prefer a British- or Irish-based person, but we’re keeping an open mind – we want the best person for the role.”

Sapa-AFP –

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