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Ireland boss Farrell likely to be among contenders to lead next Lions tour

Warren Gatland has been part of the last four tours but could stay on.

Farrell was Lions defence coach in 2013 and 2017.
Farrell was Lions defence coach in 2013 and 2017.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WARREN GATLAND LEFT things open-ended with regards to the possibility of doing another tour in 2025 but the Lions have since come out to underline how much respect they have for the Kiwi coach.

Lions chairman Jason Leonard and managing director Ben Calveley have indicated that Gatland would be in contention again for the next tour in Australia if he’s interested and it was revealing which of his attributes they spoke about while also mentioning his winning CV.

The Lions consistently highlight their history as a major strength and Leonard indicated that they like the fact that Gatland – who will now resume his job as head coach of the Chiefs – has been on four tours.

“If you cut him in half, he bleeds Lions,” Leonard told media including The Telegraph in South Africa. “He just gets what the Lions is.”

Clearly, the Lions place value in their head coach being part of the Lions family. Gatland has followed in Ian McGeechan’s footsteps as the wise and experienced figurehead of the touring side, enjoying series success in Australia in 2013, a draw with the All Blacks in 2017, but now defeat to the Springboks.

The New Zealander somehow still has doubters in rugby despite his outstanding record with Wasps, Wales, and the Lions, but he deserves to be considered a candidate again in 2025.

However, there will obviously be temptation for the Lions to go a different way. If they’re keen for the next man into the job to “get what the Lions is” then Ireland head coach Andy Farrell will surely be in strong contention.

Obviously, a huge amount can change in the space of the next couple of years – the Lions confirmed Gatland as the 2021 head coach back in 2019 – but if Farrell can deliver two strong seasons with Ireland in 2021/22 and 2022/23, he will definitely be in contention.

warren-gatland Gatland has been head coach for the last three tours. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Farrell has done two Lions tours as an assistant coach and was highly regarded for his work as defence specialist and as a character within the group. He has moved into the previously unfamiliar terrain of being a head coach with Ireland since 2020 and it remains to be seen where he can take this Irish group of players.

There had been a possibility that Farrell would join the Lions in South Africa last month after Ireland’s two July Tests but in the end, Gatland felt he had enough support with his existing team of assistant coaches.

Scotland boss Gregor Townsend was among them and he is another man with Lions history, having played in the successful 1997 tour and then acted as attack coach this time around. The fact that the Lions’ attack was poor in South Africa doesn’t help his cause but the head coach, Gatland in this case, always has the final say on tactical plans.

Many Lions fans will want a complete freshen-up with someone who hasn’t already been part of the coaching ticket on a previous tour.

Ronan O’Gara has impressed with his work at La Rochelle, where he will become the top man next season following the departure of Jono Gibbes. A three-time Lions tourist as a player, O’Gara won two Test caps and has some unhappy memories on those tours but could make his biggest impact of all as a coach.

His contract at La Rochelle runs right through until 2024 and the Lions have generally picked their head coach from the international scene, but who knows what will unfold in the coming seasons.

In Ireland, Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have had success as a balanced coaching pairing in Leinster, the former running the operation with a broader outlook and the latter earning rave reviews from players for his on-pitch coaching, analysis, and leadership work. Lancaster has coached at Test level before with England.

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Meanwhile, Mark McCall has had major success with Saracens, even if it has been tarnished in many fans’ opinions. Sarries are back in the Premiership next season and eager to make up for lost time.

Bristol’s Pat Lam is an advocate for an ambitious attacking style of rugby and is something of an innovator.

saracens-head-coach-mark-mccall Mark McCall and Saracens are back in the Premiership next season. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac is the reigning Six Nations champion and always pursues a style of rugby that fans and players enjoy, while England’s Eddie Jones is extremely experienced if divisive and in need of reinvigorating the English performances. Jones has reinvented himself several times before.

If the Lions are to go more left-field, Crusaders mastermind Scott Robertson has previously expressed his interest in getting involved, going as far as to offer his services to Gatland for the 2021 tour. ‘Razor’ has a uniquely creative rugby mind and specialises in building a bond within his squads – certainly a skill useful for a Lions tour.

There is always the possibility that other contenders could emerge in the next couple of years – Joe Schmidt might fancy returning to rugby coaching after a couple of seasons with World Rugby – but the early money will be going on Farrell or Townsend being the ones to step up if Gatland decides to step aside.

If he wants the gig again, Gatland can lean on a CV that other coaches look at with envy.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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