Gatland wary of Lions' 'tough' schedule

Warren Gatland (AFP)
Warren Gatland (AFP)

London - Wales open their Six Nations campaign away to Ireland next month, with coaches Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt the favourites to lead the 2017 British and Irish Lions in New Zealand.

But Wales boss Gatland jokingly said fellow New Zealander Schmidt was welcome to the job given the combined side's gruelling schedule.

No Lions squad has won a series in New Zealand since 1971 and Gatland believes their chances of equalling that feat have not been made any easier by an itinerary that sees the Lions' first tour match, against a New Zealand Provincial XV, taking place just one week after the English Premiership and Celtic League finals.

"He (Schmidt) can have the (Lion) job if he wants it!" joked Gatland at the Six Nations launch in London on Wednesday.

"Have you seen the schedule? He can have it," added Gatland, who coached the 2013 Lions to a series win in Australia.

But Gatland was the first to accept that winning in world champions New Zealand's backyard was something else.

"It's a really tough tour. I'm not saying the Lions can't win, it's just a tough schedule.

"It's the hardest place in the world to go and play, from a travel and organisation perspective as well as the rugby perspective.

"It's not un-winnable, but it's a very, very tough schedule."

The Premiership and Celtic League finals both take place on May 28, 2017.

Gatland said the Lions tour would effectively start the day after those matches, before the opening tour clash on June 3, 2017.

"The team has an away dinner on the Sunday, fly on the Monday, arrive on the Wednesday and your first game's on the Saturday," said Gatland.

"Then you're playing a Test match two weeks later. So it's very tough.

"If I got offered it again it would be difficult to turn down.

"But if you weren't involved and didn't get it you may think 'thank my lucky stars' and go and enjoy it as a spectator."

Meanwhile, Ireland coach Schmidt played down his chances of leading the side by saying his current contract would not allow him the year-long sabbatical that Lions chiefs usually require in the build-up to a tour.

"To be honest the terms of my current contract don't allow me to do the Lions, so it's actually a moot point," said Schmidt.

"It doesn't distract me because it isn't actually something I can do unless the terms of my contract change."

Schmidt's current Ireland deal expires at the end of June 2017 when the Lions would be heading out on tour.

But there is nothing in his agreement with the Irish Rugby Football Union to stop Schmidt working as a member of a backroom Lions staff headed by Gatland, who already has a clause in his Wales contract allowing for a sabbatical.

However, Schmidt said Wednesday: "I'm not planning for beyond where my contract finishes and to be honest, if you're a coach sometimes you don't even get to the finish of it because that's the harsh reality, it's a very success-driven environment."

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