Ahead of next year’s tour to South Africa, Jacob Whitehead casts an eye over the assistant coach candidates

Who will be on Warren Gatland’s Lions 2021 coaching team?

Next summer will be Warren Gatland’s fourth British & Irish Lions tour, and third as head coach. Along the way he’s worked with a who’s who of European coaching talent: Sir Ian McGeechan, Shaun Edwards, Andy Farrell, Steve Borthwick and Rob Howley amongst others.

We all know how important these assistants can be on tour – think of Jim Telfer’s ‘Everest’ speech in 1997 – but who will he pick for next year’s trip to South Africa to take on the world champions?

Just like the playing squad, the coaching staff could lend itself to a bolter – a bright up-and-coming mind whose fresh ideas could provide an invaluable resource.

However, don’t expect wholesale changes to his coaching set-up. As he told the Will Greenwood Podcast: “Yes, you want to make a few changes (but) having that continuity with a number of individuals makes getting up to speed a heck of a lot easier.”

Here’s a rundown of the contenders for Warren Gatland’s Lions 2021 coaching team…

Andy Farrell 

Gatland’s key lieutenant on the last two tours – his defence in the drawn New Zealand series was exemplary. You suspect that Gatland would love to have him in his set-up again next year, but now he’s Ireland head coach that is likely to impact his availability.

Rob Howley 

For so long Gatland’s number two. He’s just taken on an assistant role with Canada after the conclusion of his ban for breaching betting regulations and has experience on five Lions tours – two as a player and three as a coach.

Graham Rowntree 

Another of Gatland’s trusted sidekicks who is currently part of the Munster set-up. Rowntree toured twice as a player and has been the forwards coach for the past two trips. What bigger challenge for a forwards coach than a tour to South Africa?

Neil Jenkins 

Like Graham Rowntree, a two-time tourist. Jenkins has been in the back-room team for the past three tours and the kicking guru, who is still part of the Wales set-up under Wayne Pivac, seems virtually locked in to go again.

Warren Gatland’s Lions 2021 coaching team

Watching brief: Warren Gatland has been attending matches in the UK (Getty Images)

Stuart Lancaster 

A name that keeps cropping up. Reputation restored after a sorry end to his England stint, the Leinster boffin has the big-game experience and on-field coaching skills to be a valued addition.

Joe Schmidt

Another big name, who is known for his methodical detail. He masterminded Ireland’s first away win over the Springboks, a famous 26-20 victory at Newlands, but would he want to be involved given that he has spoken about his desire to step back from coaching?

Gregor Townsend 

Unable to accept an invitation for the tour of New Zealand in 2017, could the Scotland boss fit this time around? He played at ten when the Lions beat South Africa back in 1997.

Sam Warburton

An intriguing one. Captain of the past two tours, he can work hand-in-hand with Gatland and has been taking his first steps in coaching as Wales’ breakdown chief. Could it be slightly too early in his career? Maybe, but never say never.

John Mitchell 

If no Farrell, a vacancy in the defence department opens up. Will France release Shaun Edwards? If not, England assistant Mitchell makes sense. He has extensive coaching experience in South Africa and knows Gatland well too.

Scott Robertson 

Somewhat left-field, the Crusaders boss has been in touch with Gatland about being part of the tour. He’s had huge success with the Canterbury-based franchise but missed out on the All Blacks job due to a lack of international experience.

Steve Borthwick 

He was on the last tour and was key to how England performed at Japan 2019. However, the scale of his new job as head coach at Leicester Tigers might put paid to his Lions coaching chances.

Stephen Jones

Attack coach of the Scarlets and now Wales, he stepped in ably for Howley during last year’s World Cup. One of the top-rated young coaches in the game, he would have the chance to avenge the 2009 series defeat, in which he started all three Tests.

Playing days: Stephen Jones and Ronan O’ Gara during Lions training in 2009 (Getty Images)

Ronan O’Gara 

Like Jones, O’Gara is a veteran of the 2009 tour, in which he gave away the crucial penalty in the second Test defeat. His coaching career has involved spells at the Crusaders, Racing 92 and now La Rochelle.

Matt Proudfoot

Proudfoot joined the England set-up this year from South Africa, where he was part of the back-room team during their World Cup-winning campaign. He can clearly offer valuable insight into the Springboks if he’s interested in a Lions role.

Pieter de Villiers 

Another challenger, like Proudfoot, to Rowntree for the forwards coach role. Former France prop de Villiers has been brought into the Scotland set-up by Townsend and the Scots notably had the outstanding scrum in this year’s Six Nations.

Who do you think will be part of Warren Gatland’s Lions 2021 coaching team? Any other coaches you think should be in the mix? Let us know your thoughts by emailing rugbyworldletters@futurenet.com or get in touch via social media.

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