Warren Gatland: Wales coach takes on British and Irish Lions role
Warren Gatland has been named British and Irish Lions coach for the second time and will lead them on the 2017 tour of New Zealand.
The Kiwi will step down from his job with Wales and be replaced on a temporary basis by Rob Howley.
"It's a huge honour when you get offered probably the biggest job in world rugby against the best opposition in world rugby," said Gatland.
The Lions have not won a series against New Zealand since 1971.
"When I was offered the position, it was definitely a 'yes' straightaway," added Gatland. "To challenge yourself against the best, there is no bigger challenge."
Howley took over from Gatland the last time the 52-year-old took on the Lions role in 2013, when they went to Australia and claimed a 2-1 series win.
Gatland intends to travel to New Zealand on Thursday with tour manager and former England captain John Spencer to start planning.
The Lions face 10 games on what will be an extremely challenging trip, which includes three Tests against the All Blacks - unbeaten on home soil since 2009.
Gatland expressed his concern about the schedule in January, when he and Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt were the leading contenders for the job.
"We've got some talented players with some experience as well," said Gatland, who has been part of the past two Lions tours.
"The players are very well aware of how important the next few months are. They'll be desperate to get on that plane and go on a tour which is a massive challenge, but could be something very, very special."
Gatland confirmed he intended to name his coaching support staff and management team on 7 December.
"I haven't really had much time to think about that at the moment," he said. "There is a limited amount of preparation time, so some continuity is important.
"It is also important you get some fresh faces and some fresh ideas as well."
He added: "I am incredibly excited. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think we had the ability to go to New Zealand and win.
"I think players are very well aware of the importance of the autumn Tests, Six Nations and club form as well. I think a lot of them are desperate to be selected and be on that plane for a tour that is always a massive challenge."
Gatland was an assistant coach in 2009, when they were beaten 2-1 in South Africa, before becoming head coach four years ago.
England coach Eddie Jones was also touted as a contender for the Lions job, but he ruled himself out earlier this year.
Former Wales fly-half Jonathan Davies says he has "a sneaky feeling" the Lions could run Steve Hansen's world champions close next year.
What now for Wales?
The Wales Rugby Union said it considered a range of options "domestically and overseas" when deciding what to do in Gatland's asbsence.
It eventually determined that Howley was the best choice to coach the national side while the Kiwi was away with the Lions.
"Rob's experience and relationship with the regional coaches affords the opportunity for a joined up approach, which will be of an important benefit for the game in Wales," said WRU group chief executive Martyn Phillips.
"Rob is a very experienced international coach and forms part of one of the most experienced coaching teams in the international game.
"Added to this, we have a very experienced squad of players, with a strong leadership group and we believe that combination gives us a strong basis on which to perform for the season ahead."
2017 British and Irish Lions tour fixtures:
3 June - Provincial union team (Toll Stadium, Whangarei)
7 June - Blues (Eden Park, Auckland)
10 June - Crusaders (AMI Stadium, Christchurch)
13 June - Highlanders (Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin)
17 June - Maori (International Stadium, Rotorua)
20 June - Chiefs (Waikato Stadium, Hamilton)
24 June - New Zealand (First Test, Eden Park, Auckland)
27 June - Hurricanes (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
1 July - New Zealand (Second Test, Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
8 July - New Zealand (Third Test, Eden Park, Auckland).