Warren Gatland names fresh and exciting coaching group for British and Irish Lions tour

Warren Gatland has opted for experience and new faces in his Lions coaching set up
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The British and Irish Lions boss has announced his backroom staff for this summer's tour of South Africa and it will be a new group of coaches tasked with defeating the world champions.

A new look to the Lions

Warren Gatland admits he has ‘known for a long time’ that Ireland boss Andy Farrell would not be part of his British and Irish Lions coaching team for their upcoming tour of South Africa.

Farrell, who was the defence coach for the Lions in 2013 and 2017, has opted to focus his efforts on Ireland’s summer plans as he looks to continue putting his stamp on the national side.

Instead, Steve Tandy [Scotland] will be in charge of thwarting the world champions whilst Scotland’s leading man, Gregor Townsend, will be Gatland's attack coach.

Leinster’s Robin McBryde and Wales’ Neil Jenkins make up the rest of the Lions’ coaching group.

“There is no doubt that it has been an eventful last week,” Gatland said. “I have known for a long time that Andy Farrell wasn’t potentially going to be available for us. We have been talking for a number of weeks, so that wasn’t the decision last week that he wasn’t available.

“With regards to that, I had spoken to Gregor a number of weeks ago about Steve Tandy. He was very complimentary about him and the job he has done with Scotland over the last couple of years with their defence.

"It was probably the best in the [Six Nations] Championship this year and last year. That for me was a relatively easy one in terms of already knowing that Andy wasn’t going to be available.”

Gatland also revealed he had asked his trusted lieutenants Steve Borthwick and Graeme Rowntree about joining him to face the Springboks, but both declined for different reasons.

In terms of Borthwick, he was keen to concentrate on matters at Leicester Tigers, whilst Rowntree - who toured Australia and New Zealand with Gatland in 2013 and 2017 - ruled himself out due to family reasons.

“Steve is an incredibly honourable person,” said Gatland. “It is different for club coaches compared to international coaches and he just felt that was his day job and he needed to be there and at the helm for Leicester.

“With Graeme, one of the things with me is that family has to come first. He has 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 he is trying to get them settled in with all the challenges of Covid. He just felt being away for eight weeks, possibly 10 weeks if there is quarantining as well, that was just too much and he wanted to be here for his family.”

Meanwhile, Gatland also responded to the fact he had not selected an English coach following a disappointing Six Nations campaign for Eddie Jones' side: “It’s nothing to do with ‘do I feel like I need an English coach?’ It's about me picking who I think are going to be the best fit for myself. 

"It is people who I want to work with, people I’ve worked with in the past and people I think will work well as a group. No one made an issue of it in the past when we haven’t had Scottish coaches. It’s not about that. It’s just about trying to pick who you think are the best people to come into your environment, people who I think I can work well with and hopefully put a good team together.”

Steve Tandy: “I have been pretty blown away by it”

With a couple of Gatland’s regular faces absent for his third tour as head coach, the Lions boss has named Tandy in his plans.

Gatland said the reaction of the Welshman - along with forwards coach Robin McBryde when he told the pair they would be part of the Lions set-up - gave 'him a buzz', and Tandy is still pinching himself about the opportunity.

“I think it was Wednesday last week that I had a call from Gats,” Tandy said. “It has been a whirlwind, and I am pretty blown away by it.

“It was pretty surreal to start with. You can get moments when it catches you, and coming down yesterday [to the Lensbury Hotel in London] and having those first discussions and being around the group was awesome. It has started to sink in a little bit more. I feel really privileged and excited at the same time.”

Tandy’s coaching journey includes six years with the Ospreys before a spell with the Waratahs in Super Rugby, but since moving from Australia to Scotland, the 41-year-old has thrived.

His impact was noticeable in Scotland’s impressive Six Nations campaign as Gregor Townsend’s side secured historic victories on the road against England and France.

And the Scotland head coach was delighted for his colleague whilst also looking ahead to the next exciting milestone in his own career.

“Steve has been outstanding,” Townsend said. “He has been with us [at Scotland] for over 18 months.

“He has had two Six Nations and a November campaign. The defensive side of our performances have got better and better. We are much tougher to beat, but Steve is more than just a defence coach. He is someone who connects really well with the players and gets them playing well.

"He has integrated really well with the coaching staff. He has been a big help to me as a head coach, so I am looking forward to working with him and I am delighted he has got this chance to work with the Lions."

Townsend, who was part of the Lions side which toured and defeated South Africa in 1997, added: “It means more now than it did 24 years ago. It was such an enjoyable tour and winning a Test series was incredible.

“The friendships you created were as memorable as the games on the field, but as you go through your rugby career, you realise with each passing moment how important the Lions is and how fortunate and lucky I was to be involved in one Lions tour.

"One of the great challenges of a Lions tour is to bring together players from four different countries, in a short space of time, and create an attacking threat that will cause the opposition problems. It is something I am already looking forward to.”

Townsend may also be working with a few of his Scotland players this summer with their performance in the Six Nations making it difficult for Gatland to ignore the likes of Hamish Watson, Chris Harris and even Ali Price.

The Lions boss did hint at a more Scottish flavour to the touring party, which will certainly put smiles on the faces of Tandy and Townsend: "There will definitely be more Scots this time because they have fronted up in the Six Nations. Winning away in Paris and at Twickenham is significant because when you are playing for the Lions you are not playing at home.”

McBryde: "The door is not closed on anybody"

Robin McBryde's inclusion in the coaching group is an exciting one. Whilst he has never been on tour with the Lions, he has worked with Gatland before during a successful spell with Wales. The job the 50-year-old is doing at Leinster was also evident in the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final on Saturday as the Boys in Blue outwitted Exeter Chiefs' famed forward pack.

McBryde will add fresh blood to the Lions scene and judging by his comments on Tuesday, that may well be the case for some of the players too.

The coaching line-up drew up their individual squad lists on Tuesday when they met for the first time and McBryde said: "Not all of them [players] are internationals, or current internationals, so the door is never closed."

But when you focus purely on the international players, a place on the plane for some of England's star names could be under threat following a below-par Six Nations. In particular, some of the Saracens contingent who so far have played very little rugby this season may miss the cut but Gatland isn't ruling anyone out just yet.

He said: “It’s probably not like it was 12 months ago where some of them would have been the first names on the sheet. There’s no doubt that some of those players didn’t have the greatest Six Nations this year, but a lot of them have credit from past successes whether it’s winning in Europe, winning the Six Nations, performing well at World Cups or on previous Lions tours as well.”

British and Irish Lions 2021 schedule (TBC)

26 June - Japan (Murrayfield, Edinburgh)

3 July - DHL Stormers (Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town)

7 July - South Africa Invitational (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)

10 July - Cell C Sharks (Jonsson Kings Park, Durban)

14 July - South Africa 'A' Team (Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit)

17 July - Vodacom Bulls (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)

24 July - First Test v Springboks (Soccer City, Johannesburg)

31 July - Second Test v Springboks (Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town)

7 August - Third Test v Springboks (Ellis Park, Johannesburg)

England Fixtures