Warren Gatland: Wales expect coach to stay, but would not stop him leaving

Warren Gatland and Martyn Phillips
Warren Gatland (left) and Martyn Phillips watch a Wales training session

Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Martyn Phillips expects Warren Gatland to see out his contract as Wales coach.

But he says he would be prepared to release the New Zealander from his contract if he wanted to leave.

Gatland is due to return to his Wales role after the British and Irish Lions tour and has been tipped as a potential future All Blacks coach.

Phillips said: "I don't think he'd do it, a huge value for him is loyalty so I don't think it would happen.

"But having said that, if he did, the people you need on your team have got to want to be there."

Gatland leads the Lions into a winner-takes-all third Test against New Zealand in Auckland on 8 July.

Following the tourists' 24-21 win over the All Blacks in Wellington, Sir Graham Henry tipped Gatland as a possible future All Blacks coach.

Steve Hansen has signed a contract to take New Zealand to the 2019 World Cup, which is when Gatland' deal with Wales is due to end.

"The job is so critical to Wales. I wouldn't want somebody doing it who doesn't want to be there," added Phillips.

"So if he wanted to go, he could go."

Gatland is Wales' longest-serving coach, having taken over following the 2007 World Cup.

Wales have won two Six Nations and Grand Slams and another championship title during his tenure, and reached the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup.

Warren Gatland with Lions coaching team members
Warren Gatland was assistant coach with the Lions in 2009 and is the second man to coach the Lions twice.

Rising above the criticism

He has twice been released from his Wales duties to coach the Lions - for the victorious tour of Australia in 2013 and the current New Zealand tour.

Phillips has praised Gatland's handling of this Lions on the current trip after intense criticism he has received.

He was portrayed as a clown on the front of the New Zealand Herald following the first Test after accusing the All Blacks of targeting Lions scrum-half Conor Murray.

He was also criticised for calling up Wales quartet Cory Hill, Gareth Davies, Tomas Francis and Kristian Dacey and Scottish pair Alan Dell and Finn Russell and only using them as injury cover.

The Welsh four players were unused replacements in two matches.

"It's his third tour so he knows what to expect, it's probably the toughest coaching job in rugby," Phillips added.

"He's had the discipline to stay above the criticism, not be drawn into it.

"He has the strong character and has retained his discipline to keep his eye on the prize of winning the Test series.

"You have to stay focused, back yourself and stay true to your instincts."

Wales players celebrate beating Samoa
A relatively inexperienced Wales team beat Samoa in June under interim coach Robin McBryde

Wales and the Lions coaching team

Phillips also defended the WRU's decision to allow Gatland and his Wales assistants Rob Howley and Neil Jenkins to tour with the Lions, leaving Robin McBryde to lead the national team in their two summer Test matches against Samoa and Tonga.

Wales won both their games and handed out 12 new caps while the Lions have a chance of winning a first Test series in New Zealand since 1971.

So did the WRU and Phillips get it right?

"It's not about being personally vindicated," said Phillips.

"Sometimes you get it right and sometimes get it wrong.

"I'm just pleased for everyone. I am pleased for the Welsh youngsters who got the wins against Samoa and Tonga.

"Jamie Roberts led them well on the pitch and they are good ambassadors for Welsh rugby."

Lions celebrate beating New Zealand in Wellington
Victories like the 24-21 success against New Zealand are key top the Lions future, says Martyn Phillips

The future of the Lions?

Phillips does not believe the future of the Lions is in danger, despite calls to shorten future tours.

He believes the trips should have a special place in the calendar.

"It's a little bit like the Olympics for rugby, it's the crown jewels," said Phillips.

"We know the players put it almost above their country jersey sometimes and coaches want to coach the Lions.

"I definitely don't think we should subscribe to one-off games or breaking something as powerful a brand as this is.

"As a Lions board we have always said the brand is stronger if you can win a series."

English clubs have indicated they want the 10-match tour to be reduced to eight games but Phillips has indicated the Lions might need more time to win a series.

"The fixture congestion is an ongoing debate and we are having the conversation about the global season," he said.

"When it comes to Lions tours, it's the Test series that counts.

"It's a brilliant brand so you are probably looking at more preparation time, looking at what's a sensible run of games into a Test series."

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