It's official: Gatland is the Lion King
It's official: Gatland is the Lion KingSHARE
Warren Gatland said he was ready for a "hell of a challenge" after being appointed head coach of the British and Irish Lions for next year's tour of Australia.
The New Zealander, currently coach of Wales,, will be looking to lead the Lions – a combined side made up of players from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland – to their first Test series win in 16 years following their 1997 success in South Africa.
"There is no question it is one hell of a challenge," Gatland, who has led Wales to two Six Nations Grand Slams and the semifinals of last year's World Cup, told a news conference in London on Tuesday. "Playing in the southern hemisphere is one of rugby's hardest challenges.
Gatland, an assistant coach when the Lions lost in South Africa in 2009, added: "I really enjoyed the experience as one of the assistant coaches in 2009 and since then have harboured ambitions to lead the tour to Australia next year.
"The Lions came close in South Africa and our ambition is to win the series in 2013, and I believe we have the players to do that."
Tour manager Andy Irvine, the former Scotland and Lions fullback, said of Gatland's appointment: "Warren has an outstanding record as a coach and has been fully embedded in rugby in the UK and Ireland since 1989.
"His achievements include steering Wasps to English and European club success and more recently he has overseen Wales to two Grand Slams and a semi-final at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
"He has an intimate knowledge of the Lions, the challenges they face and the processes that need to be put in place to ensure the squad had every chance of being successful," Irvine added.
"It has been no secret that after the initial selection process Warren was our preferred candidate.
"However, his unfortunate accident earlier this year in New Zealand during the selection process did delay the appointment. We naturally had to ensure he would be fit to take up the post. Those concerns have now been addressed and The Lions Board is delighted that Warren will lead the Tour to Australia next year.
"Importantly he was one of Ian McGeechan's specialist coaches on the 2009 Lions Tour to South Africa so has an intimate knowledge of The Lions, the challenges they face and the processes that need to be put in place to ensure the squad has every chance of being successful," added Irvine.
Gatland will be the second overseas coach of the Lions following fellow Kiwi Graham Henry, in charge during the 1-2 series defeat in Australia in 2001.
The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) confirmed Gatland would be released from Wales duty to concentrate on the Lions "for a substantial portion of the rugby year".
The Tour comprises 10 matches and kicks off in Hong Kong against the Barbarians on June 1.
The Lions will then proceed to Australia to play nine matches including three Test matches against the Wallabies in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
Commenting on his appointment Gatland said: "I am really honoured to have been asked to take the position of head coach for the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour to Australia.
"Over the coming months I will give careful consideration to the make-up of my coaching staff and of course the playing squad itself. A Lions Tour is unique, it is the ultimate career pinnacle for coaches and players. I want to ensure that we get the Tour environment right so that we are hugely competitive and that our fans are proud of their team," added Gatland.
British & Irish Lions schedule 2013:
Saturday, June 1: v Barbarians, Hong Kong
Wednesday, June 5: v Western Force, Perth
Saturday, June 8: v Reds, Brisbane
Tuesday, June 11: v Combined Country, Newcastle
Saturday, June 15: v Waratahs, Sydney
Tuesday, June 18: v Brumbies, Canberra
Saturday, June 22: FIRST TEST v Australia, Brisbane
Tuesday, June 25: v Rebels, Melbourne
Saturday, June 29: SECOND TEST v Australia, Melbourne
Saturday, July 6: THIRD TEST v Australia, Sydney