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Warren Gatland has opened the door to return to a high-profile coaching position in Europe.
In an exclusive interview to mark his signing for Telegraph Sport as a new rugby columnist, Gatland says he may look for a new position overseas when his contract with the Chiefs in New Zealand is up next summer, and has not ruled out a possible return to the United Kingdom.
The Lions head coach returned to New Zealand in 2020 after taking Wales to the semi-finals of the World Cup in Japan, ending a glittering 12-year tenure that saw him win four Six Nations titles including three Grand Slams.
Gatland, who was granted a sabbatical from his role as director of rugby at the Chiefs to take the Lions to South Africa last summer, says he is now keen to look for a new challenge, potentially in the UK again, having already coached in the Premiership with Wasps.
The decision is likely to lead to speculation linking him to the England job, as Eddie Jones is due to step down next year, or another international position following the World Cup in France next year.
“I am contracted with the New Zealand Rugby Union for the next 12 months and I have enjoyed my role as director of rugby with the Chiefs, working closely with the coaches and coaching the coaches and a hands-on role working with the players,” said Gatland, who also coached Connacht and Ireland before joining Wasps, where he won three Premiership titles and the Heineken Cup.
“After that I am probably going to look for another role overseas. I loved my time as a young coach in Ireland [with Connacht and then as head coach of the national side] and my time with Wasps and, of course, Wales. It was pretty challenging but the people made it special for me in Wales. I could end up in the UK again.
“I loved my time in the northern hemisphere, the friends that I made and I enjoyed the rugby. I have nothing concrete yet and haven’t had any conversations yet.
“There is a lot more pressure in international rugby because you are under the spotlight but the flip side is that every game is like a cup final. In club rugby you have a bit more leeway to try different combinations as you can lose some games and still make the top four. You look at the pros and cons of both and see hopefully where you can make a difference.”
'There are good rugby people on the Lions board'
Gatland also revealed he urged the British and Irish Lions board to seriously consider postponing the tour by a year for the best interests of rugby - even if it meant he had to step down as head coach because of his contractual commitments in New Zealand.
He said there were “good rugby people” on the Lions board but suggested that it was time to return to appointing independent directors to the Lions Board. He felt there was a conflict of interest with the priority of the Home Unions influencing the decision not to postpone last year’s tour of South Africa.
“It was disappointing because I saw it as a serious option and saw no reason why the tour couldn’t be going ahead now, when travelling supporters would be allowed and games played in front of capacity crowds with the original schedule,” Gatland added.
“South Africa were also understandably desperate for the tour to be postponed because financially it was massive for them to have supporters and tourists there.
“The board is there to do the best job for the Lions but sometimes you ask [whether] some of the people on the board [are] a little bit conflicted because they have got other teams to look after and other [national] coaches to satisfy,” he added.