Gatland the front-runner for Lions role


The chief executive of the British and Irish Lions has confirmed Warren Gatland is the front-runner to be appointed coach for the 2017 tour of New Zealand.

Wales coach Gatland was at the helm for a 2-1 series win in Australia in 2013, having served as an assistant to Ian McGeechan in South Africa four years earlier.

Speaking at a sponsorship event, CEO John Feehan said: "It would absolutely ludicrous of me to say that Warren would not be the leading contender [for 2017] - he clearly is.

"If he is involved in the next tour it will be a third tour for him. He has a record that is pretty much second to none in the northern hemisphere and so he has to be the leading contender."

Feehan said the Lions are unlikely to look beyond the current coaches of Wales, England, Ireland and Scotland when they select their man later this year.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is expected to be Gatland's biggest rival for the position.

"The four home-based coaches are a starting point and a pretty good starting point. It is unlikely that we will move outside of that, but we will keep an open mind," added Feehan.

"We will consider any international coach who points his hand up and wants to be involved. There are strengths and weaknesses of various guys, not necessarily of their coaching but their availability or the level of experience they have had with a given team.

"We are going to wait until after the Six Nations and the June tours and then we will go through a process and hope to end up with a head coach at the end of August or the start of September."

Lions manager John Spencer was more circumspect when it came to discussing the next coach, but made it clear that the chosen person will be expected to step away from their national-team duties.

"We would expect them to give 100 per cent of their time to the Lions," said Spencer. "That would be the best preparation and we are looking for best principles.

"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.

"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."