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Warren Gatland should lead the Lions

The British and Irish Lions will go hunting in world champion territory next year - and Warren Gatland must be their expedition leader.

The months leading up to any Lions coaching appointment are often jam-packed with speculation as one hopeful after another finds himself linked with northern hemisphere rugby's most coveted job.

Situations can change, fortunes can fluctuate, especially with an entire RBS 6 Nations Championship and a busy summer of tours ahead. Hero one minute, zero the next.

Gatland, though, is a constant, a consistent winner wherever his coaching journey has taken him, either at domestic or international level.

The 52-year-old New Zealander enjoyed Premiership title and European Cup success with Wasps, while his eight-year stint in charge of Wales has harvested three Six Nations titles and two Grand Slams, plus a 2011 World Cup semi-final appearance.

Gatland, additionally, was part of the 2009 Lions coaching staff in South Africa, when the Springboks and tourists fought out an epic Test series, before succeeding Ian McGeechan as head coach for the 2013 Australia trip and masterminding a 2-1 Test series triumph.

Like Lions king McGeechan, Gatland has been there, seen it and done it as head coach and he stands head and shoulders above any other candidate for a 10-game New Zealand tour highlighted by three Tests against the All Blacks.

There are those who will champion the cause of Ireland boss Joe Schmidt, a coach who has overseen successive Six Nations title triumphs and like Gatland is a shrewd operator amid the rarefied atmosphere of top-end professional sport.

Scotland's Vern Cotter also has many admirers, especially after guiding his team to within touching distance of a World Cup semi-final place three months ago, while there should be places found in any Lions coaching support staff for the outstanding Glasgow Warriors chief Gregor Townsend and Wales' defence guru Shaun Edwards.

Gatland, though, ticks every box, and one imagines he would be chomping at the bit if given an opportunity to head up the Lions in New Zealand, where Clive Woodward got it so spectacularly wrong as 2005 Lions head coach.

Gatland understands the New Zealand psyche, and as a twice tracksuited Lions tourist, he also understands what is required to be competitive - and potentially successful - in such a unique rugby environment where preparation is minimal, but victory essential.

Crucially, he would also be given the best part of a year's sabbatical from his Wales job, which is a critical pre-Lions tour requirement these days. When he was away preparing for Lions business in 2012-13, Wales won the Six Nations title.

Speaking this week, the Lions' 2017 tour manager John Spencer said: "We have always had a totally open mind about the appointment, and still have. We have one Six Nations and a summer tour to go, and a lot can happen.

"We look at the form of coaches in the same way as the players are examined. There is a long time to go yet.

"I couldn't say if Warren is in a strong position. We have to keep an open mind until the last minute and look at teams in the Six Nations and summer tours.

"As far as the New Zealand tour is concerned, it is a blank sheet."

Blank sheet at the moment, maybe, but Gatland's name needs to be inked in. Quite simply, he is the best man for the job.


From Belfast Telegraph