A maiden series defeat as coach of the British and Irish Lions has led to doubts regarding Warren Gatland ’s future in the role and whether he’ll be back to lead the charge in 2025.
Gatland, 57, could become the first head coach to take control of four consecutive Lions tours if he did return to the wheel in time for their visit to Australia in four years.
Faith in the New Zealand native has waned with some, however, after the northern hemisphere side suffered a 19-16 defeat to South Africa on Saturday to lose this year’s series 2-1.
But former England scrum-half Matt Dawson believes critics are wrong to lose sight of the Kiwi’s achievements, having come so close to becoming the first coach to go unbeaten in all three Lions destinations.
The three-time tourist told William Hill: “It would be great if Warren did another tour.
“He’s obviously very good at it and given the time constraints and general constraints around this tour, the adversity that he, the players, the staff and the Lions as a whole overcame was magnificent, and they were a whisker away from winning a Test series.
“He’s won in Australia so he’s got that under his belt, he’s got a drawn series in New Zealand, he’s been nicked at the death with the last kick of the game in South Africa – he’s got a very good record as Lions coach. Why would we want to change that? You’re going to have to give me a really good reason why someone else should be brought in.”
Gatland—who returns to coach the Chiefs in his native Hamilton—first travelled with the Lions in 2009 when he served as Sir Ian McGeechan ’s forwards coach for another 2-1 loss in South Africa.
However, he wasn’t appointed to the head position until the 2013 tour of Australia, where his infamous decision to drop legendary Brian O’Driscoll for the third Test ultimately paid dividends.
It’s those kinds of difficult decisions that Dawson believes still make Gatland the ideal man for the job, though the likes of Andy Farrell and Gregor Townsend are among the favourites to replace him.
“He manages it fantastically well and picks good coaches to go alongside him so I’m very much along the line here that he should stay in charge,” the 2003 Rugby World Cup-winner continued.
“This is not just about rugby coaching, this is about bringing elite players together to go down to the southern hemisphere and win.
“It takes more than just the players. You’ve got to bring them together, organise them, you’ve got to motivate them and you have to understand the Lions brand. It’s not an easy task at all and we’ve got someone who’s very good at it.”
Rugby icon McGeechan is the only other figure to have coached the Lions on four tours, triumphing in visits to Australia and South Africa in 1989 and 1997, respectively.
However, 12 years separated his third and fourth trips as head coach, with Sir Graham Henry and Sir Clive Woodward making attempts in the head role prior to his return in 2009.
Gatland’s unblemished record in the job is no longer intact, having beaten Australia (2013) and recorded a rare drawn series against New Zealand (2017) prior to visiting the Springboks.
That being said, many would be inclined to concur with Dawson that a series loss to the reigning world champions doesn’t mean he’s no longer the best man for the job.
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