Life after Gatland: Who is next?
SPOTLIGHT: As the dust settles on a British & Irish Lions tour, opinion is divided on whether Warren Gatland should remain in charge for the 2025 trip to Australia.
While some point to former Ireland and Wales head coach’s 2011 success Down Under and the drawn series in New Zealand in 2015, others believe the lack of attacking rugby and rancour associated with this year’s tour makes it time for the B&I Lions to move on.
When questioned immediately post-match the 56-year-old Kiwi was understandably non-committal about his prospects.
“It’s something that’s I’ll reflect on. I’m incredibly proud of my involvement and I’ve been very, very fortunate,” Gatland said.
“I’m very passionate about the Lions. I think that time on my own [in isolation at his home in Hamilton] will be a good chance to think what the next chapter of my life is going to be.”
Lions chairman and former prop Jason Leonard believes the Kiwi has earned the right to be high on their 2025 shortlist.
“The highest accolade that I can give someone like Gats is that he is up there with Sir Ian McGeechan,” Leonard said. “If you cut him in half, he bleeds Lions. He just gets what the Lions is.
“Twenty-four hours after the Test we have not really gone down that route but Warren Gatland has got to be in consideration.”
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Meanwhile, Times pundit Stuart Barnes has wasted no time in nailing his colours to the mast of another high-profile Kiwi coach in the Crusaders’ Scott Robertson, who he proposes teaming up with his former assistant Ronan O’ Gara who currently works for La Rochelle in the French Top 14.
“That’s a combination that would have beaten a Springbok team there for the taking,” he wrote.
“Let’s have a coach who will install ambition rather than fear of failure. I’d sign Robertson tomorrow.”
History has taught us that plenty can change in four years, and while the Lions at times have favoured continuity through Gatland and Sir Ian McGeechan they have also at times opted for ‘form horses’ such as Clive Woodward and Graham Henry.
Gatland and Henry have also ended the notion not only that the head coach must be a former Lions player but also that he must be British.
Wish lists to replace Gatland will inevitably include a number of his recent lieutenants – but one important factor to bear in mind is just how much of the job is now about being a front man.
It is therefore inconceivable that someone who is yet to face the demands of being the boss in a 24-hour media age could be the next head coach.
This seems likely to rule out the likes of Shaun Edwards or Rob Howley but perhaps brings a few longer shots into play should the stars realign in their favour during the next four years.
The 46-year-old Ireland head coach already has spells working with the Lions on his CV in addition to stints in charge of both England and Ireland’s defence.
With plenty of playing experience at the highest level in both codes and time spent learning his trade within the highly successful Saracens structure Farrell ticks plenty of boxes.
Key Variable: Ireland need to shine in France 2023 for Farrell’s moment to come
Scotland’s head coach, who was a series-winning Lion as a player in 1997, has seen his profile grow during his assistant coach role on this summer’s tour.
With a relatively successful stint at Glasgow behind him, he also worked under a number of Southern Hemisphere big names during stints as Scotland’s attack and backs coach.
Key variable: Unless Scotland really shine in France 2023 or during the next few Six Nations championships he has less proven success at club level to fall back on than many
England’s boss has nearly 30 years of coaching experience and seems to relish the limelight which the Lions role brings.
Previous stints with Australia and Japan have given the 61-year-old plenty of insight into how to beat the Southern Hemisphere giants – including the 2015 ‘miracle of Brighton.’
His time with England seems certain to end after France 2023 – and should England deliver another successful campaign the Aussie would be high on the Lions shortlist.
Key variable: Something of a ‘marmite’ character, Jones is notoriously difficult to work with and may therefore be considered unsuited to a position where gelling four rugby cultures together is essential
Wales head coach is another Southern Hemisphere veteran with the credentials for the top Lions job.
Either side of a three-year spell coaching Fiji, Pivac built a reputation in Auckland from where he moved to West Wales to impress with a Scarlets side that he took to the Pro-12 title.
He replaced Gatland as Wales boss in 2019 and lifted the Six Nations trophy earlier this year.
Key variable: Wales need to keep winning – like Jones 2023 will be an obvious break point for Pivac should the Lions opportunity arise
The veteran former Ireland head coach seemed nailed on to coach the Lions at some point when his team twice lowered the colours of his native New Zealand prior to the last World Cup.
But when Ireland once again failed to deliver in Japan 2019 Schmidt stepped away from a position he had held since 2013.
Prior to his involvement with Ireland, the 55-year-old enjoyed huge success in Super Rugby and the European Cup with the Blues and Leinster.
Now working with World Rugby as a performance specialist, might Schmidt be tempted by the Lions?
Key variable: Does Schmidt want to return to the Northern Hemisphere and involvement with coaching?
Incredibly it is only seven years since Borthwick’s playing days ended and at 41 he has plenty of time ahead of him.
The former Bath, Saracens and England captain has always been destined for a high-profile coaching career and few can rival the detailed knowledge of forward play which he brought to his role as a 2017 Lions assistant.
After spells working under Eddie Jones with Japan and England the 41-year-old has made a solid start to life as Leicester boss.
Key variable: Borthwick is not overly media friendly but should he restore the Tigers to former glories it is entirely possible to see him as Jones’ England successor then a Lions boss
The former Leinster head coach is currently working with Argentina following a lengthy spell at the helm of his native Wallabies.
Having also worked in the French Top 14 with Stade Francais, Cheika certainly has the breadth of experience required to take charge of the Lions.
His time as Australia boss was far from controversy free, but like Jones he appeared to relsh the profile of the role.
Key variable: Needs to get back into a more high-profile position soon to become a Lions contender
A highly respected figure, Lancaster has reinvented himself under Leo Cullen at Leinster following a terrible 2015 World Cup at the helm of England.
Often linked with a move back to the English Premiership, the 51-year-old probably needs to opt for a role at the helm of a high-profile province or club to become a serious Lions contender.
The former Ireland flyhalf has remained relentlessly loyal to Saracens where his stock has continued to rise while the club has gone through a period of extreme turmoil.
McCall’s trophy cabinet is bulging – but he needs international experience to boost his Lions prospects.
Bristol’s boss has some experience coaching the Pacific islanders and his native Samoa, but it is in club rugby with Connacht and the Blues that has seen his star rise sharply.
Should Bristol build on last season’s semifinal appearance by winning a couple of English Premiership titles it is entirely possible to see Lam as a Lions contender.
If Baxter ever opts to leave his native Exeter Chiefs the scramble for his signature will be worth watching.
If England opt to replace Jones with a home-grown boss he is surely a shoo-in, but does he want the job which seems an essential stepping stone to the Lions?
It is easy to forget that the Cardiff Blues DOR was top of many shortlists to replace Gatland as Wales National Coach when he was transforming Wasps into Premiership contenders.
Young – who remains the only player to tour with the Lions in three different decades – reportedly declined an interview because he felt it came too soon in his coaching career.
Like Baxter, the former dual-code international would be top of most lists should the WRU want Pivac’s successor be home-grown, after which a successful spell as national coach would make him an obvious Lions contender.
By Paul Smith, RugbyPass