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Gatland knew 'a long time ago' that Farrell wouldn't be available to Lions

Farrell will lead Ireland on their tour to the Pacific Islands if it goes ahead.

Farrell won't tour with the Lions this summer.
Farrell won't tour with the Lions this summer.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

LIONS BOSS WARREN Gatland says he knew “a long time ago” that Ireland head coach Andy Farrell would not be available to be part of his coaching team for this summer’s tour of South Africa.

Gatland also stressed that he supported Munster forwards coach Graham Rowntree’s decision to rule himself out of the mix due to family reasons.

The Lions today confirmed that Leinster’s Robin McBryde, Wales’ Neil Jenkins, and Scotland’s Gregor Townsend and Steve Tandy will make up Gatland’s coaching team. 

Rather than going on another Lions trip as an assistant to Gatland, Farrell is set to lead Ireland on their own summer tour to the Pacific Islands if that goes ahead as planned.

Farrell’s unavailability to reprise the defence coach role he carried out on the 2013 and 2017 Lions tours means Scotland defence specialist Tandy has been confirmed in that position for the trip to South Africa.

“I’ve known for a long time that Andy Farrell wasn’t going to be available to us,” said Gatland today. “We had been talking for a number of weeks so that wasn’t a decision last week that he wasn’t available.

“I spoke to Gregor about Steve and he was complimentary about the job he’s done over the last couple of years. We looked at their defence and it’s probably been the best in the Six Nations this year and last year.

“That was a relatively easy one in that we knew Andy wasn’t going to be available.”

Leinster’s Robin McBryde will be Gatland’s forwards coach on the Lions tour, having previously worked under him during a successful period with Wales.

Gatland revealed that Steve Borthwick had declared himself unavailable for the forwards coach role due to his commitments with Leicester, while Munster’s Graham Rowntree ruled himself out of touring with the Lions again this year – he was forwards coach in 2013 and scrum coach in 2017 – due to family reasons.

robin-mcbryde Robin McBryde has been appointed Lions forwards coach. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“My philosophy has always been ‘family first,’” said Gatland. “Graham had been trying to convince his family to come over from Leicester to Limerick for the last couple of years. 

“They have finally moved over and trying to get them settled in, obviously with the challenges of Covid in the last year and stuff, so he just felt that being away for eight weeks – possibly 10 weeks if there’s quarantining as well – was too much.

“He just said he needed to be there for his family and to make sure his family is settled.” 

Gatland praised McBryde’s work in Ireland since arriving from his role with Wales after the 2019 World Cup.

“After Wales, Robin has gone to Leinster and he’s done a really good job there, sort of expanded his role. It was originally with the scrum and now into working as a forwards coach. You saw how well they played against Exeter at the weekend, so that was an easy fit.

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“The buzz I got was from having the phone call with Robin and Steve Tandy asking them to come on board. Their response was unbelievable.”

Gatland also reiterated that the Lions could add to their coaching team depending on the availability of other candidates.

“We may bring someone else in a little bit later on, someone who comes in before the tour or maybe during the tour,” said Gatland.

“We’re waiting to see what the final schedules are for international sides that haven’t been finalised – are teams going on tour or are they playing at home?

“Those things are going to be finalised before the end of the month, so we may look to add someone else to the coaching group. We’ll be flexible on that.”

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Murray Kinsella

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