The New Zealander has named four assistants for this summer's tour to South Africa
Warren Gatland’s Lions 2021 coaching team
Gatland, who has been head coach on the past two tours, will be assisted by Gregor Townsend (attack), Robin McBryde (forwards), Steve Tandy (defence) and Neil Jenkins (kicking).
This will be Jenkins’s fourth Lions tour as a coach and Townsend’s first. McBryde, who was part of Gatland’s Wales back-room team for more than a decade and is now in charge of Leinster’s forwards, toured with the Lions as a player in 2001 but this is also his first involvement as part of the coaching team, as it is for Scotland defence coach Tandy.
“It’s a really strong group and I’m excited to see what we can achieve together – I think we’ll all complement each other well in South Africa,” said Gatland.
“A Lions tour is a unique challenge, so it’s important to have some continuity in the coaching group. Neil understands the exceptional demands that only a Lions tour can present, and we will benefit from his knowledge and experience.
“But it’s also important to have new voices and a fresh perspective. Gregor is doing an excellent job in charge of Scotland and is an outstanding coach. He also understands the challenges of touring South Africa as a player and what it takes to win there, so I am extremely happy he will be part of the set-up.
“Steve has made Scotland’s defence one of the most organised in world rugby – something we saw throughout the recent Six Nations. He’s clearly an intelligent coach and someone I am very much looking forward to working with.
“Obviously Robin is someone who I know very well from our time together in Wales. He is an impressive and experienced coach who continues to have success with Leinster. I think he’ll be well suited to the Lions environment and I am sure he will do an excellent job with the forwards.”
It has been widely reported that Steve Borthwick and Graham Rowntree – both involved in previous tours – were initially set to take on assistant roles with the Lions but withdrew last week.
Gatland may add to his coaching team closer to the tour – perhaps someone like former Lions captain and current Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell – but Jenkins, McBryde, Tandy and Townsend are the core quartet of assistants.
Jenkins is excited to be working with Townsend again, saying: “The Lions is a unique experience for players and coaches.
“To bring together the best players from four countries and take on the Springboks in their own backyard is very exciting. To do it with one of my Lions team-mates from 24 years ago is incredibly special for me.”
McBryde has called on the Lions to be “uncompromising” in the way they play and Tandy has spoken of the need for everyone to get “on the same page as quickly as possible” when it comes to defence.
Townsend added: “To be involved as a player and now as a coach is truly humbling.
“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’s something I am already looking forward to.”
The Lions squad is due to be announced in early May and assemble in late June. Before heading to South Africa to take on the world champions, they will play a Test against Japan at BT Murrayfield on 26 June.
This tour will be unlike any other due to the pandemic. The squad is set to operate in a ‘bubble’, as teams did in the Six Nations, and the tour itself is likely to be limited to one or two locations rather than moving around South Africa to minimise the risk of Covid-19.
Gatland said: “Touring South Africa is always a huge challenge and clearly when the squad assembles in June to begin our preparations everything is going to look and feel a bit different to previous tours.
“But having spoken to the coaches individually over the past few days we’re absolutely determined to make it an enjoyable, memorable and ultimately successful experience for everyone involved.”
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