Joe Schmidt’s hopes of coaching the British and Irish Lions against New Zealand in 2017 may have received a setback after tour manager John Spencer revealed that only a head coach able to take a year-long sabbatical will be considered to lead the 2017 tour to New Zealand.
Ireland’s two-time RBS 6 Nations-winning coach Schmidt is one of the front-runners to lead the Lions as head coach when they travel south to take on the world champion All Blacks 17 months from now.
Yet his chances of landing the appointment at the end of this summer have been muddied given his contract with the IRFU only runs to June 30, 2017.
Having succeeded Declan Kidney as Ireland head coach in 2013, New Zealand-born and recently naturalised Irish citizen Schmidt signed just a one-year extension to his current deal last July, which would mean taking the final year of his contract off if he were to comply with the Lions’ criteria.
Spencer, speaking at the announcement of Standard Life as the Lions’ principal partner, insisted fortunes over the next six months will be pivotal to the decision.
“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,” Spencer said.
“We look at the form of coaches in the same way as the players are examined.
“We would expect them to give 100% of their time to the Lions. That would be the best preparation and we are looking for best principles.”
Wales head coach Warren Gatland was at the helm for the triumphant 2013 Lions tour to Australia having taken a 12-month sabbatical from his WRU contract and leaving backs coach Rob Howley in charge for the 2012-13 season, but Spencer refused to view the Kiwi as the favourite.
“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,” the Lions manager said.
“He has obviously been very successful. As far as the New Zealand tour is concerned it is a blank sheet. Everyone has to have a first tour.
“If you get into the Lions’ culture and values you can understand it pretty well from scratch.”
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