Warren Gatland says he knew for some time that Ireland head coach Andy Farrell would not be part of his British and Irish Lions backroom team for the summer tour to South Africa.
Farrell had been coy about his intentions in recent months, saying at the start of March that he was still 'in the dark', but he ultimately decided that he would not be part of the group to take on the world champions.
He will instead remain available for Ireland’s summer tour to the Pacific Islands, which may or may not go ahead.
Gregor Townsend, his Scotland counterpart, has taken the opposite course, accepting the invitation to join Gatland’s staff despite the fact that the Scots are still hoping to play this summer.
His defence coach Steve Tandy will also switch hats and serve four nations rather than one.
Leinster’s Robin McBryde and Neil Jenkins of Wales will compete a backroom team which, had things been different, might well have included Farrell, Munster’s Graham Rowntree and Leicester Tigers’ top man Steve Borthwick.
“There’s no doubt that its been an eventful last week in terms of the fact that I’ve known for a long time that Andy Farrell potentially wasn’t going to be available to us,” said Gatland, “and we have been talking for a number of weeks…
“With regard to that, I had spoken to Gregor a number of weeks ago about Steve Tandy as a possibility. He was very complimentary about him, in terms of the role he has done with Scotland the last few years. Their defence has probably been the best in the last championship.
“That for me was a relatively easy one in terms of already knowing that Andy was unlikely to be unavailable.”
Borthwick has made the decision to stay with his day job while Rowntree’s decision to opt out was down to family reasons.
“One of the things with me, my philosophy is that family always comes first and he had been trying to convince his family to come over from Leicester to Limerick for the last few years and they finally moved over and he’s trying to get them settled in with the challenges of Covid and stuff.
“He just felt that being away from eight weeks, and possibly ten weeks with the quarantine as well, that it was just too much. He just said that, ‘I need to be there for my family and just to make sure that my family gets settled’. So I understand that.”
It’s all a far from ideal situation for a tour against the reigning world champions but Gatland painted the hastily-drawn picture in the best terms possible by talking up the understanding between Townsend and Tandy and the long relationships he himself enjoyed with McBryde in Wales.
“Robin, after Wales, has gone to Leinster and done great job there. He has expanded his role. He was originally the scrums and (he is now) the forwards coach. We saw how well they played at the weekend against Exeter so for me that was an easy fit.”
Things being how they are with the pandemic, there has been room left for manoeuvre and Gatland added that he may add another body to his coaching staff either before the tour or even during it. That will depend on the schedules still to be confirmed for the national sides in due course.
“We may bring someone else a little bit later on. Whether that is someone who comes in before the tour or during the tour. I’m looking to see what the final schedules are for the international sides and he also played down the absence of any Eddie Jones’ English coaches from the current mix.
Matt Proudfoot was part of the Springbok operation during the World Cup and would have offered an in-depth knowledge of the Boks while John Mitchell has many years of service against the South Africans from his time coaching in the country and against their teams.
“People are trying to make a story about that. It’s nothing to do with, ‘do I feel the need to have an English coach?’ It’s about me picking who is going to be the best fit for myself, people I have worked with in the past and people I want to work with in the group.”