Gatland can leave if he wants - Welsh rugby chief

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The Welsh Rugby Union would not stand in Warren Gatland's way if he decided to walk away from his contract early, chief executive Martyn Phillips has said.

Gatland is set to return to Wales duty after Saturday's British and Irish Lions tour decider against New Zealand in Auckland.

The Kiwi is contracted until 2019 but has been tipped as a possible successor to All Blacks boss Steve Hansen, whose deal runs out at the same time.

And while Phillips believes it to be unlikely that Gatland would seek an early exit, he concedes that he would not force the 53-year-old to stay against his wishes.

"I don't think he'd do it [leave]," Phillips told BBC Sport. "A huge value for him is loyalty, so I don't think it would happen.

"But having said that, if he did, the people you need on your team have got to want to be there.

"The job is so critical to Wales. I wouldn't want somebody doing it who doesn't want to be there.

"So if he wanted to go, he could go."

Saturday's stunning 24-21 victory for the Lions in Wellington means the tourists head back to Eden Park with a shot at winning the series and Phillips praised Gatland's handling of the tour in the face of some criticism - most notably for his decision to call up the 'Geography Six'.

"It's his third tour so he knows what to expect, it's probably the toughest coaching job in rugby," Phillips added.

"He's had the discipline to stay above the criticism, not be drawn into it.

"He has the strong character and has retained his discipline to keep his eye on the prize of winning the Test series.

"You have to stay focused, back yourself and stay true to your instincts."