Lions chief says Warren Gatland is "leading-contender" for coaching job

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Gatland (r) with 2013 captain Sam Warburton.

Warren Gatland has been described as the “leading contender” to coach the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand next year.

Wales head coach Gatland was in charge of the Lions’ Test series-winning tour of Australia in 2013.

And the New Zealander is widely expected to retain that post for a 10-game New Zealand trip highlighted by three Tests against the world champion All Blacks.

Ireland boss and Gatland’s fellow New Zealander Joe Schmidt would also currently be a strong candidate, having overseen two successive Six Nations title triumphs.

But Gatland, who was part of the 2009 Lions coaching staff in South Africa, would appear to be in pole position.

“It would be absolutely ludicrous of me to say that Warren would not be the leading contender – he clearly is,” Lions chief executive John Feehan told Sky.

“If he is involved, it will be a third tour for him. He has a record that is pretty much second to none in the northern hemisphere, and so he has to be the leading contender.”

Wales have won three Six Nations titles, including two Grand Slams, and reached a World Cup semi-final since Gatland was appointed in late 2007.

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#360Rugby: Six Nations, Cipriani, UAE

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The Six Nations, Danny Cipriani's hit form and UAE Rugby are discussed this week.

As the rugby world builds towards the Six Nations, Sport360’s Andrew Binner looks at the England’s players to watch out for, proposes a tournament overhaul and analyses UAE Rugby’s financial boost.

Scotland’s quick fix may have damaging long-term affect

According to the statistics, Scotland were the top-performing side from the Northern Hemisphere at the World Cup, and their fans should rightly feel excited ahead of the Six Nations.

While Vern Cotter’s playing structures have played a key role in this rejuvenation, it was the foreign talent Cotter imported to execute these tactics that are the route cause for improved results.

In the short-term players, fans and stakeholders are all happy. But has the New Zealander set a dangerous precedent that could damage the national team’s identity in the long run? 

Last weekend Edinburgh took to the field with only two Scottish-born forwards in their starting line-up. 

While Kiwi-born flanker John Hardie looks in particular to be a real asset, it remains hopeful that Cotter will employ a business model similar to Saracens’, where experienced foreign stars have been gradually usurped by top-notch, local academy players. 

Time for a Six Nations overhaul

For some reason the Six Nations is regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious sports tournaments.

As a self-professed adherent to this notion, this scribe can only suggest it is the historical venues or perhaps the ancient Celtic/Gallic rivalries that stir up such a romantic affinity, because the rugby is average at best.

In 2000, Italy were admitted to the tournament as a reward for their encouraging performances below the top tier and to revitalize a format that had become a little stale.

Sixteen years on and most rugby fans would agree that while the Six Nations did receive a boost with a new venue, the Italians have made such little progress that it is time for another change. It is time for the Six Nations to introduce a promotion and relegation system.

Like Italy at the turn of the Millennium, Romania and Georgia have proved their worth and competitive capability at the World Cup and now deserve their chance to succeed where Italy have not. Who knows? The threat of relegation may encourage Italy (and the other teams) to play to their potential on a consistent basis.

Three players England must pick for Six Nations

One look at Eddie Jones’ England coaching line-up will tell you this is a man that chooses form over reputation and he must now employ the same ethos to his first playing squad.

If England are to rediscover their once devastating offensive edge, three players that must be selected are Saracens hooker Jamie George, Sale Sharks 10 Danny Cipriani and Wasps centre Elliot Daly.

George is an England captain in the making and at 25 has experience well beyond his years, having played in front of sell-out crowds at Twickenham and Wembley. He is mobile, resilient and accurate in the line-out – all traits of his mentors John Smit and Schalk Brits. 

It is fair to say that Cipriani has been his worst enemy and his off-the-field antics have stalled his international progress. However, the fly-half has rediscovered his creative flair at Sale and deserves his chance to provide an alternative threat to that of George Ford and Owen Farrell.

Daly is Mr. Consistent. At outside centre he has combined rock solid defence with exquisite running lines that see him break the gain line with alarming ease every week. With Jonathan Joseph’s injury woes almost a foregone conclusion, Daly looks set for a bright future. 

Parisians racing for unlikely glory

At long last it looks like Racing 92 President Jacky Lorenzetti may see a tangible return for his significant investment into the Parisian rugby club.

The real estate magnate has overseen a meteoric rise up through the French leagues, but in recent seasons his team have failed to produce the sort of results their star-studded roster deserves.

However, the recruitment team seem to have finally got it right with Dan Carter, who last weekend submitted a wet-ground fly-half master class, as Racing overcame Bordeaux Begles to climb to the summit of the Top-14.

French rugby form can be a particularly fickle mistress, but with DC at the helm in his World Cup-winning form, the omens are good for Lorenzetti lifting that elusive piece of silverware.

Sponsorship deal signifies bright future for Emirati rugby

While most institutions in UAE command vast financial clout, the national rugby team has to work somewhat harder to persuade businesses to invest in its potential, being a far minor sport in the region compared to football.

However, with several domestic leagues now in operation and a recent emphasis towards the development of local, grass roots playing talent, investment is starting to flow thick and fast.

HSBC on Friday renewed their sponsorship of UAE Rugby’s Player Pathway Programme (PPP) for a further three years, while Land Rover was also unveiled as the programme’s co-principal partner.

These structures have so far reached over 6,800 Emirati children across Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Dubai and are vital in developing new talent for the national sides, while providing an alternative sport for children to play at school.

With a new coaching structure in place and no financial burden, the future looks bright for Emirati rugby.

Extra time

When top players are recruited by French clubs, many fans only see the player’s pay cheque and forget the amount of pressure on them to justify the hefty price tag. It is hard enough to stand out in a winning team, but the pressure is even greater when a player is brought in to a basement club. All of which means that Conrad Smith’s try for Pau was a moment of pure genius from the New Zealand centre against Toulon. Whether he and Ma’a Nonu are still on speaking terms is unconfirmed.

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George Kruis wants to be picked on merit for Six Nations

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Man in form: George Kruis.

George Kruis wants to be chosen for England’s Six Nations campaign on merit only and not because of his relationship with Steve Borthwick.

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Kruis was mentored by Borthwick when the recently-appointed Red Rose forwards coach was captain at Saracens, the second rows working closely together for five years.

Even before his man-of-the-match display in Saturday’s 26-6 victory over Leicester, with Borthwick watching from the stands, Kruis was on course to start the Six Nations opener against Scotland on February 6.

Director of rugby Mark McCall has described him as a “shoo-in” for Murrayfield where an 11th cap awaits, but the 25-year-old insists his form alone will dictate whether he is picked in Eddie Jones’ first England team.

“It was nice of Mark to say I’m playing the best rugby of my career. It’s the first nice thing he has said!” Kruis said. “I am (playing well) but it makes it so much easier when you are in a pack with seven or eight young English lads doing the same thing. It will be an interesting one for selection come the Six Nations.

“I’m sure I’ll keep my fingers crossed, have a chat with Steve Borthwick in the coming weeks. He was a mentor for me definitely. When you play for five years alongside a player like that you learn a few things off him.

“But he is another coach and that is the way it is. There will be no favouritism and I would not want it to be like that. I like to feel that if I do get selected it would be off my own back and the hard work we and I have put in.”

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