Warren Gatland has been confirmed as head coach of the British and Irish Lions for a third time.
Gatland, currently Wales coach, will take charge in South Africa in 2021, having already presided over a series win in Australia in 2013, and a draw in New Zealand four years later.
The 55-year-old New Zealander is standing down as Wales boss after the World Cup this year.
He will officially start with the Lions in the summer of 2020.
“I’m hugely honoured and delighted to lead the Lions again,” said Gatland, who becomes just the second man in history – after Sir Ian McGeechan – to take charge of three tours.
“It is exciting and a great challenge. The Lions rightly have a truly special place in the game and I jumped at the chance to be involved again when I was approached about the role.”
While Gatland will take a short break after his 12-year Wales stint, it is understood Lions chiefs are investigating the possibility of him acting as a coaching consultant in between jobs, before starting with the Lions in August next year.
“I’m delighted to now have everything in place to begin full-time in August 2020 as that gives me the best possible chance to plan for South Africa, but for the time being my focus is entirely on the World Cup and delivering a successful campaign for Wales,” Gatland added.
Lions managing director Ben Calveley says they have the “best coach in the world” signed up, and an early appointment allows time for Gatland to be closely involved in planning for the series against the Springboks.
“Naturally he was our first-choice candidate from the start of the process,” explained Calveley.
“Appointing him two years ahead of time ensures Warren can also be involved in planning the logistics and scheduling elements of the tour.
“I’m looking forward to working alongside him to give the Lions the best chance of success in South Africa. The supporters are central to what make the Lions special, and with the world’s finest coach at the helm, excitement will grow even further.”
Gatland will not confirm his assistant coaches until much closer to the tour, but it is believed incoming Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is already being targeted after his leading contributions in 2013 and 2017.
The Lions are also keen on succession planning, with Farrell being earmarked as a potential head coach for the tour in 2025.
Either way, the Lions are set for a major structural shake-up.
The old-fashioned tour manager model is to be disbanded, with Lions bosses keen to modernise the concept, which would lead to a reconnection with more recently retired ex-players.
England World Cup-winning prop Jason Leonard, who went on three Lions tours, has already come on board as chairman – and possibly tour manager.
“We may be playing away in the heartland of South Africa, but I am confident that yet again, we will have enormous support and they will feel like home games,” said Leonard, who was part of the last winning series against the Springboks in 1997.
“As a player it made all the difference, and now I can’t wait to be part of the famous sea of red enjoying the tour of a lifetime.”
The long-term agreement with Sanzaar (the governing body that represents Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina) has also expired, providing an opportunity to start afresh and to negotiate individually with the relevant southern hemisphere union, in an attempt to avoid the scheduling issues which have dogged previous tours.
There is also renewed optimism about working with the English clubs, with Calveley in regular dialogue with his Premiership counterparts.
Gatland’s previous Lions tours
Australia 2013 results:
First Test – Australia 21-23 Lions
Second Test – Australia 16-15 Lions
Third Test – Australia 16-41 Lions
Lions win series 2-1
New Zealand 2017 results:
First Test – NZ 30-15 Lions
Second Test – NZ 21-24 Lions
Third Test – NZ 15-15 Lions