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Schmidt's welcome to 'tough' Lions job, says Gatland with an eye on 2017 schedule

‘I’m not thinking about the Lions,’” says Warren Gatland after reeling off a chunk of the tour itinerary.

ON A DAY when Joe Schmidt distanced himself from coaching the Lions in 2017, Warren Gatland joked that his fellow Kiwi was welcome to the top job.

Joe Schmidt with Warren Gatland Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The tourists will embark on a gruelling schedule to New Zealand with matches against all five of their Super Rugby sides, with a game against the Maori also on the itinerary, before a three-Test series against the reigning world champions.

“He can have the job if he wants,” joked Gatland.

“Have you seen the schedule? You go to New Zealand, you play three Tests, five Super Rugby teams and the NZ Maori… you’re trying to win there with hardly any preparation. He can have it.

“It’s a really tough tour. I’m not saying the Lions can’t win. It’s just a tough schedule. It’s the hardest place in the world to go and play, not just from a rugby perspective, but from the travel and organisational perspective.

Look, it’s not unwinnable but it’s very tough when you look at the schedule: you’ve got the Aviva Premiership final and Pro12 showpiece on the Saturday… you leave to fly to New Zealand on the Monday and your next game is on the Saturday and the squad have been barely been together. Then, you’re playing a Test match three weeks later… it’s quite tough.

“I’ve been very lucky to be involved in a couple of tours. If you got offered the opportunity again, it would be a difficult one to turn down. But, if you weren’t involved and didn’t get it, you might say ‘thank my lucky stars’ and go and enjoy it as a spectator and go and watch it from that angle.”

“I’m not thinking about the Lions,” he adds.

“Our focus is on the Six Nations and the tour of New Zealand in the summer and if we do well on those competitions, the other things take care of themselves. That’s the way my coaching career has always been, I haven’t got a rugby CV and I wouldn’t know how to put one together. I’ve just been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. What will be, will be.”

Jacques Brunel, Warren Gatland, Joe Schmidt, Eddie Jones, Guy Noves and Vern Cotter Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Gatland and Schmidt will go head-to-head in 11 days’ time when Ireland host Wales in their opening Six Nations clash at the Aviva Stadium.

Shorn of several of front-liners and with a miserable Champions Cup campaign for the provinces still fresh in the memory, Ireland look vulnerable. The Welsh will arrive in the capital with a squad brimming with pace and power containing the likes of Jamie Roberts, George North and Taulupe Faletau.

Gatland, however, dismissed any notions of complacency among his squad’s ranks citing last season’s opening round defeat against England as a warning.

“Notoriously, we’ve been very slow starters in this tournament,” Gatland explained.

“We’ve probably done better after World Cups because of the time that we’ve had together. When you look at the fixtures we’ve had over recent years in terms of who we’ve had to play first up, it’s been pretty tough.

‘Limited preparation’

“So, to get Ireland away, we’ve got a lot of confidence from the way that we played against them last year at home in our stadium. It was a big game in the World Cup warm-up as well so to win in Dublin with the limited preparation before that.

“There’s a confidence and self-belief there but, in saying that, what they’ve achieved in the last two years as champions has got to make it tough to beat. Even though they’ve had retirements and a few injuries, they’re still a world class outfit, well-coached and they’re going to be a tough team to knock over.

It’s a good game for us first up and if we can get that and get some confidence and momentum heading into the two games at home… hopefully that can set us up nicely for the championship.”

Gatland has been critical of Ireland’s attacking style under Schmidt in recent seasons. Following their hammering by Argentina in the World Cup quarter-finals there have been calls for Schmidt to expand Ireland’s style heading into the championship. Gatland himself is under pressure to move away from his ‘Warrenball’ approach after his side failed to score a try against a 13-man Wallabies outfit during the World Cup.

“I’ve made comments in the past they their game-plan in quite limited, but it’s been incredibly effective,” added Gatland.

Change a winning formula?

“It’s hard as a coach when you get something that’s working for you and you’re winning lots of games and you’re beating some of the best teams in the world by playing that way. It’s hard to go away from that.

“Joe has been fairly tight with the way they play the game. When Joe was with Leinster, their game developed over a period of time and I’m sure that will happen with Ireland. I’m sure the Irish will play more expansive and look to catch teams out by the way they do play.

“I can understand why they’ve played that way, not because they probably haven’t wanted to be more expansive but I think it’s been harnessed a bit by being so successful. It’s hard to go away from something that’s successful and that’s working for you.”

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