Warren Gatland has revealed he has a gentleman’s agreement with Welsh Rugby Union boss Roger Lewis to be released if asked to coach the British and Irish Lions in 2017.
Wales head coach Gatland signed a new six-year contract yesterday, committing his long-term future to the WRU.
The 50-year-old is already Wales’ longest-serving coach, but this new deal will extend his tenure to 12 years, taking in both the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cups.
Former Ireland and Wasps coach Gatland said there is no clause written into his new contract that allows a sabbatical to coach the Lions.
But the series-winning 2013 Lions coach said WRU chief executive Roger Lewis has pledged to do “everything he can” to help Gatland lead the tourists in his native New Zealand in 2017.
Gatland handed the Wales reins to Robert Howley for the 2012 season, as he prepared for the Lions’ 2013 tour to Australia.
And it looks likely the former Waikato hooker could do exactly the same in 2016.
Gatland said: “The contract this time is exactly the same as what I had last time.
“And I’ve spoken to Roger Lewis. If I had the opportunity to be involved again, that’s going to be because of Wales being successful in the next couple of years.”
Keen to be involved in a third Lions tour, Gatland said coaching Britain and Ireland’s top stars has a reciprocal benefit for his Wales job.
He said: “You’re involved with other people, people come from different environments and it’s always about the sharing of ideas.
“That’s what’s special about the Lions, and the chance to work with the top players in the Northern Hemisphere.
“It’s incredibly stimulating for coaches and players, and everyone involved.
“And that’s what you want to have a chance for, to be able to challenge yourself to be involved at the highest level.”
Gatland’s new deal is a rare positive development for Welsh rugby amid unrest from the four regional sides still agitating to create a breakaway Anglo-Welsh league, and the continued exodus of top stars.
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