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British and Irish Lions 2017: Warren Gatland 'hated' New Zealand return when media attacks turned personal

The Independent logo The Independent 10/07/2017 Jack de Menezes

warren-gatland3.jpg © Provided by Independent Print Limited warren-gatland3.jpg Warren Gatland has admitted for the first time that there were moments where he “hated” his return to New Zealand due to the personal campaign against him by the media in his homeland during the British and Irish Lions tour.

The 53-year-old Gatland, a Hamilton native, experienced a frosty welcome from national newspaper the New Zealand Herald throughout his stay here, with the peak of the campaign coming ahead of the second Test when a front page image depicted the Lions coach as a clown.

It was not the first time that the newspaper had resorted to such negative coverage of Gatland, and his side’s chances were completely written off by the same media outlet throughout the first three weeks of the tour, until the Lions started to click as they beat both the Crusaders and Maori All Blacks within a week.

“My wife asked me about three weeks into the tour, she said 'how are you enjoying the tour?' and I said 'I'm hating it’,” Gatland revealed the day after securing a series draw with the All Blacks following Saturday’s 15-15 tie at Eden Park.

“You don't publicly show that something's affecting you but I don't mind people criticising me tactically or the way that we play, but I thought some of the stuff was quite personal and as a Kiwi, I found that quite challenging to be perfectly honest.

“You've got to put that aside and move on. I'm not a person who trawls through every newspaper and media and stuff but you hear what's going on and you get briefed from your media people and family are telling you what's going on and what people are saying.

“You try really hard to make sure that doesn't affect you or you don't see the staff and the players, you know, you've got to make sure you're relaxed and calm, that's important they see you as the person in charge and in control of whatever's going on out there.”

warren-gatland9.jpg © Provided by Independent Print Limited warren-gatland9.jpg The third Test was the nail-biting finale that the series deserved and despite the All Blacks finding the flowing rugby that deserted them in Wellington, the Lions were able to keep in touch with five penalties through a combination of Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly. The All Blacks never trailed, largely due to the brilliant impact from try-scorers Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett – both making their first Test starts – and a frantic and confusing end brought the curtain down on a thrilling series that leaves the Lions in an incredibly strong place moving forward.

That future may yet include Gatland. The Kiwi will leave Wales at the end of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and has not yet decided what his never move will be. Gatland has long craved the All Blacks job, and with Steve Hansen ready to step down after Japan 2019, a move back to New Zealand could be on the cards. However, Hansen appeared to deliver a blow to those hopes on Sunday when he stressed that his successor should come from within, giving a giant vote of confidence in assistant coach Ian Foster.

ian-foster-steve-hansen.jpg © Provided by Independent Print Limited ian-foster-steve-hansen.jpg

"All I know there is a massive responsibility that comes with being All Blacks coach," Hansen said on Sunday. "I know that when the union in 2007 made the decision after we dropped out of the quarter-final to keep Graham [Henry] and Wayne [Smith] and myself, that that continuity and the fact that we had to take responsibility for that failure made a massive difference to what happened after that.

"Continuity is a good thing otherwise you end up chucking everything out. The formula we've got isn't perfect but it's pretty good, it's been reasonably successful, and having people coming in cold and understanding that makes it harder.”

Lions tour manager John Spencer backed Gatland to be a success if he ends up with the All Blacks, going one step further and labelling him “the best coach in the world”, but what are to options for Gatland? The All Blacks looks maybe a step too far, and he will not stay with Wales under any circumstances after what will be a 12-year reign.

There will be offers, likely from both hemispheres, yet the most appealing may be the one he currently presides over. A year out of the game would certainly be to Gatland’s liking, with the 2021 Lions tour of South Africa a potential role for the Kiwi to complete the set and face all three Southern Hemisphere giants as head coach, having been an assistant to Sir Ian McGeechan in 2009.

© Provided by Independent Print Limited Asked if he would still want the job after such a draining experience in New Zealand, Gatland said: “Yeah, possibly. It's up to the board and the Lions, isn't it?

“I don't know what I'm going to do post-2019, there are no plans at the moment. I'm not worried about the future, I'm not worried about what's going to happen. I know there will be something out there for me.

“There's a possibility that if that opportunity came again it would be something you would consider. The South African thing is a little bit easier in terms of the timeframes and the travel and getting there.

“We'd hope also that we don't let the next four years go before we start planning and putting things in place. Discussions need to take place about just having some reasonable preparation time. I’m not being stupid, I'm not asking for a month. I think a week in the UK or Ireland beforehand then arrive in South Africa for a week before the first game is reasonable.”

England head coach Eddie Jones has already made public his interest in potentially coaching the Lions in 2021, while the Lions board are believed to be considering other attractive options. But Gatland’s work over the last eight years to restore the Lions’ reputation after the 2005 debacle should not be overlooked, and if he were to retain the job for a third time as head coach – putting him one behind record-holder McGeechan – the Lions would know they are in safe hands.

© Provided by Independent Print Limited

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