Wales give Warren Gatland blessing as Lions coach

Warren Gatland and Sir Ian McGeechan talk tactics on the 2009 Lions tour
Warren Gatland and Sir Ian McGeechan talk tactics on the 2009 Lions tour

Warren Gatland is in pole position to coach the British and Irish Lions on the 2013 tour to Australia after the Welsh Rugby Union gave its approval.

BBC Sport Wales understands that Welsh rugby's chiefs are happy for Gatland to succeed Sir Ian McGeechan having been his assistant on the 2009 tour.

Gatland's Wales deal has a five-month break clause but it is thought the WRU will allow a six-month sabbatical.

That would rule Gatland out of coaching Wales in the 2013 Six Nations.

It is likely that one of Gatland's back-room assistants - Rob Howley, Robin McBryde, Shaun Edwards and Neil Jenkins - or a combination of them would take over the Wales reins temporarily.

A motion put before the WRU board is understood to have been passed unanimously to allow Gatland to fulfil his ambitions and enhance the reputation of Welsh rugby.

Lions team manager Andy Irvine has previously said that their preference was to have the 2013 coach "available effectively a year out".

But that timescale could be negotiable for the right man and Gatland's stock remains high.

The New Zealander coached Wales to the 2008 Grand Slam and impressed under McGeechan on the 2009 tour that the Lions narrowly lost in South Africa.

Wales earned plaudits and admirers for their performances in the 2011 World Cup, where they finished fourth, and currently lead the Six Nations standings after wins over Declan Kidney's Ireland and Andy Robinson's Scotland - two other Lions coaching options.

The choice of Lions coach will be announced after the culmination of this season's Six Nations.

The 2013 Lions will play three Tests against the Wallabies - in Brisbane on 22 June, Melbourne on 29 June and Sydney on 6 July - but begin the trip with a match against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on 1 June.

The tourists will also play all five Australian Super 15 sides, as well as a New South Wales-Queensland Country team.