After leading the Lions to a series win over Australia in 2013 and a drawn series with the All Blacks, the Wales boss would have been at the top of the list to be head coach in South Africa in 2021.
Yet, Gatland wants no more of it.
“I’m done. I hated the tour. I did,” he said. “I just hated the press and the negativity in New Zealand. When I look back on it now there were a lot of things that were satisfying and what an achievement it was, but it was tough work. It was hard.”
Seán O’Brien’s criticism of his management stung Gatland, who added: “You watch how hard the coaches and the backroom staff worked — they worked their absolute bollocks off on that tour — and then to have someone come out and make a comment like that… it really, really did hurt.”
All of which led to Gatland being unequivocal about his prospects of leading the 2021 Lions against the Springboks.
“I wouldn’t subject myself to that. What I’ve learned from my Lions experiences is how difficult it is to put some continuity together in terms of people and staff and the lack of preparation time… Let someone else do it. Let someone else reinvent the wheel.”
Gatland has submitted his report to the Lions, as England’s Premiership Rugby Limited are applying pressure to lengthen their season and cut the Lions preparation time further.
“I think the last six or seven reports from coaches have been exactly the same: They have been about preparation.
“A minimum is having a week in the UK before you go and then trying to arrive there a minimum of five days before the first game. That wouldn’t be ideal, but it would be adequate.
“For the people involved and the future of the Lions, people should be doing as much as possible to protect that... I just hope there are power brokers who consider the importance of the Lions for the future and not their own self-interest, as that would be a shame.”