New Zealander Warren Gatland has confirmed he will coach the British and Irish Lions against the Wallabies next year, and has expressed his surprise at their "disappointing" performance against the All Blacks on Saturday night.
Speculation has swirled for months that Gatland would be the man to reprise the Graham Henry role of 2001 and lead the tourists, and he admitted last night it was all but a done deal. The arrangement will also allow him to coach the Welsh against the All Blacks and Australia in November and December.
"I go back [to Britain] on Sunday and I've got to go to Scotland for a couple of days planning with a couple of people from the Lions," he said. "And then there's an announcement on September 4.
"We still haven't signed anything yet but it's very close, and if I do take the position I'll be seconded to the Lions for 10 months, but they've allowed me to be involved in the All Blacks Test [against Wales] for that week, and the Australian week. I won't coach the Samoa and Argentinian weeks or be involved in the Six Nations. I think that's trying to give the position some neutrality."
Gatland, who was speaking at a public engagement at Waikato University in his home town of Hamilton, said he was relishing the format of the Lions.
"The great thing about the tour is that it's the old-style tour. It's 10 games in Australia - the first game is in Hong Kong against the Barbarians, and then we play the five Super Rugby franchises and three Tests against Australia, and I think a game against NSW Country.
"It's a great chance to mould players from four different countries together is such a short period. I think we get them for about a week before we go on tour, and it's a great experience.
''It's difficult to do. As a concept you want the Lions to be successful. After 2005, they brought two teams [to NZ] and got well beaten, and it was almost as if people were talking about getting rid of the Lions, but it does generate massive amounts to the country that is hosting the Lions. The television deal is huge ... [but] it's important that the Lions in their own right are successful as an entity."
Gatland also offered his thoughts on the Wallabies' performance against the All Blacks on Saturday night, believing a lack of X-factor players had left them "vulnerable".
"I thought there were disappointing, and I was surprised with the style of game they played," Gatland said.
"One of the things with the Wallabies is that they could have snatched it at the end ... [but] I thought the All Blacks should have been 15, 20 points in front. I think the Wallabies will find Eden Park really tough this weekend."
A lack of attacking flair, through a combination of injuries and selections, had dulled the Wallabies' cutting edge, Gatland said.
"I thought the Wallabies were a little bit vulnerable,'' he said. "You need three or four X-factor players, players that can make a difference ... At the moment Australia are probably lacking two or three X-factor players. When Genia plays well he's fantastic; you have someone like Quade Cooper, and they are missing [James] O'Connor. Kurtley Beale, Digby Ioane ... you put those five together and they are a different animal, because they have got some real firepower.''
The former Waikato hooker, who is recovering from a serious fall that limited his involvement in the recent series against the Wallabies, also took a light-hearted swipe at Australia coach Robbie Deans before this weekend's second Bledisloe Test in Auckland.
"It could be quite a big score ... Robbie Deans might be looking for a job next week as well,'' he said.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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