British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has firmly quashed any suggestion of a future England role — favouring a return to his native New Zealand.
The 55-year-old, announced on Wednesday as Lions head coach for a third time, is adamant his future after the tour of South Africa in 2021 does not include succeeding Eddie Jones.
Gatland was linked with England after saying he would leave Wales once the World Cup in Japan this autumn is over, before starting full time with the Lions on August 1, 2020.
‘I can tell you definitively now I will not be coaching England, there is no way I’ll be coaching England,’ said Gatland. ‘I’ve said they can’t afford me, haven’t I? I think my coaching path is going to take different directions. I finish with Wales and then I’ve got 12 months — then the focus is on the Lions.
‘My plan then is to go back to New Zealand and hopefully there is an opportunity for some Super Rugby.’
The Lions tour will last five weeks with eight games across South Africa. Gatland has suggested the squad may be reduced from the standard 42 to 38 because there will be two fewer games than in New Zealand two years ago.
The Kiwi’s reinstatement as head coach may come as a surprise to some, following the New Zealand tour where he received a barrage of negative press from his native media, which forced him to question any future with the Lions.
Gatland, who also ruled out the top job in New Zealand, said: ‘I have no doubt that was an orchestrated campaign to try to unsettle me.
‘That took me by surprise, I wasn’t expecting that. I had this romantic view of an ex-All Black and Kiwi coming home, leading the Lions and was going to let the rugby do the talking. That wasn’t the case and that really threw me.’
But Gatland realised refusing an opportunity to right the wrongs of the heartbreaking losing Lions tour in 2009 would be a decision he’d later regret.
‘The Lions is unique, it’s special,’ said Gatland, who confirmed this will be his final tour. ‘The opportunity to go to South Africa where there is unfinished business, I couldn’t turn my back on this challenge.
‘I know it would have been something I’d have regretted for the rest of my life.’