Coaching strife: Gatland favourites pull out B&I Lions tour
NEWS: Separate reports this weekend suggest that British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has been left short – after three key coaching appointments have pulled the plug on their involvement.
Gatland, who will lead the Lions for the third time as head coach later this year, is now left scrambling to fill his coaching ticket.
The tour, which is planned to go ahead in South Africa and not in Europe, has been dogged by the issues around its logistic feasibility, but personnel problems are now coming to the fore.
According to Alex Lowe in The Times, Andy Farrell, Steve Borthwick and Graham Rowntree have all said no to the tour to South Africa.
All three had been on Gatland’s 2017 tour of New Zealand, with Farrell on defence, Borthwick on forwards and Rowntree taking charge of the scrum.
Gatland was understood to have been keen to keep the group together for South Africa, but now it looks like Gatland and kicking coach Neil Jenkins might be the only coaching survivors from the previous tour.
They will likely be joined by Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, who looks set to direct the Lions attack.
Townsend will take the role that Rob Howley held in 2017.
Howley’s was sent home from the 2019 World Cup after a gambling scandal and would be a long-odds bet to make this tour, were he available.
Gatland’s former Wales’ defence coach – Shaun Edwards – ruled himself last year and told the BBC in February that he reckoned that Gatland would snub him for a third time even if he had been available.
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The Wigan man, who has been flying high with France, said: “Well, I haven’t been on the last two Lions tours. I think if I’m honest I knew when he [Gatland] was selected as coach I wasn’t going to be going on another Lions tour until there was a change of coach.”
Gatland might look to England to shore up the ranks, but a report in The Guardian by Gerard Meagher suggests that the former Wales coach will overlook any of Eddie Jones’ England coaching ticket.
Defence coach John Mitchell, who has coached two South African Super rugby teams, and Matt Proudfoot had been in communication with Gatland for the tour, with Eddie Jones saying: “There has been contact. Warren has gone round the unions and chatted to the CEOs about potential staff. We are open to any opportunity for our staff and coaches to grow. We will wait and see.”
Proudfoot in particular, who helped steer the Springboks to the 2019 World Cup, was seen by many as a perfect weapon to turn back on the South Africans, such is his intimate knowledge of their game.
Former Springbok hooker Schalk Brits told RugbyPass last December that: “Personally, I would not like to see Matt as a Lions coach because I know he has the knowledge and know-how or our internal workings but, unselfishly, I hope he does get the job.
“There will not be that much of a change from the World Cup in the Springboks other than Matt going so having the internal knowledge of how we [the Springboks] operate, the players and systems will be a valuable asset to the Lions.
“The South African players who were in the Premiership got to know the England players before the World Cup in Japan and they gave us an advantage and with Matt having worked with the Springboks he has a lot of information on how we function and how we play strategically.
“We haven’t played any test rugby since the World Cup final and it is not ideal preparation for the Lions series.”
It’s the latest issue for Gatland to face, with a storm over his recent visit to Guernsey making headlines.
Gatland is on the lookout for a pre-tour base for his still-to-be-selected touring squad before they head to South Africa for their July Test series versus the Springboks.
However, his trip to Guernsey didn’t prove universally popular as he was allowed to skip strict quarantine requirements.
By Ian Cameron, RugbyPass