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Warren Gatland ready to take on Lions challenge ahead of tough New Zealand tour

Published 07/09/2016

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland will relish the challenge that lies ahead in New Zealand
British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland will relish the challenge that lies ahead in New Zealand

Warren Gatland's record as a consistent winner throughout his coaching career makes him an ideal appointment for what many are already billing as the British and Irish Lions' mission impossible.

As expected, Gatland will be at the coaching helm when the Lions embark on a 10-game, three-Test tour of New Zealand next summer.

History is stacked against the Lions - they have beaten the All Blacks just six times from 38 previous attempts - in addition to a limited preparation period and a tour schedule that sees them play an opening game in Whangarei just five days after leaving London.

New Zealand-born Gatland, though, will view the daunting expedition as one full of opportunities, rather than obstacles.

He has already been on two Lions tours - an assistant in South Africa seven years ago, before heading up a triumphant trip to Australia in 2013 - and those experiences will have been soaked up like a proverbial sponge.

By now, Gatland knows what works - and just as importantly, what does not work - for the Lions, whether that is on the field, off the field, player selections or support staff appointments.

And the fact that he can spend all his time between now and departure date on May 29 next year meticulously preparing for what lies ahead, having been seconded from his role as Wales head coach, means that no stone will be left unturned.

Gatland will not be fazed by taking the best of British and Irish to world champion country. Yes, the odds might suggest a Test series whitewash in New Zealand's favour, but that is not something to occupy his thought-process.

The 52-year-old can look back on silverware won at Wasps - three Premiership titles, European Cup glory and European Challenge Cup success - Waikato, where the provincial Air New Zealand Cup was secured, and with Wales, with whom he has overseen two Six Nations Grand Slam title triumphs, plus World Cup semi-final and quarter-final appearances.

Gatland, too, is not afraid of making tough calls - his dropping of Ireland talisman Brian O'Driscoll ahead of the decisive 2013 third Test against Australia in Sydney being a graphic case in point - and he has an impressive ability to think clearly under pressure.

Unquestionably, Gatland is the right choice for a tour that offers an almost unparalleled degree of difficulty; unquestionably, it will be the toughest coaching assignment he has known; but as unfathomable as it might appear now, he might just make mission impossible a case of mission accomplished.

As Gatland has already said, anyone who doubts it cannot be done - prospective Lions players or coaches - need not bother boarding the plane.

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