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Gatland Named Head Coach for Lions Rugby Tour of Australia

Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Warren Gatland was named head coach of the British and Irish Lions for next year’s rugby tour of Australia, concluding an appointment that had been delayed after the New Zealander broke both heels in a fall.

Gatland, who guided Wales to the 2011 World Cup semifinals, follows countryman Graham Henry in being picked to lead the Lions to Australia. Henry’s 2001 squad lost the Test series against the Wallabies 2-1.

The 48-year-old Gatland will try to secure the Lions’ first series victory since the combined team from the U.K. and Ireland won in South Africa 15 years ago. He was the Lions forwards coach in 2009, when they lost 2-1 to the Springboks.

“There is no question it will be one hell of a challenge,” Gatland said in a statement. “Playing in the southern hemisphere is one of rugby’s hardest challenges.

Gatland had been the favorite to get the job after leading Wales to a so-called Grand Slam sweep of its European rivals in this year’s Six Nations. The Lions delayed naming their head coach after he fell from a ladder in April while cleaning windows at his family beach house in New Zealand.

His injuries forced him to miss Wales’s three-Test tour of Australia in June, which ended in a 3-0 series defeat for the touring team under Rob Howley, Gatland’s assistant in the Wales coaching setup.

“Recovery is going well,” Gatland said today at a press conference in London. “I’m still limping around a little bit, but I’ve made a lot of more progress than expected at this stage.”

Gatland will be seconded to the Lions from Sept. 1, but will temporarily return to coach Wales for their international Test matches against New Zealand on Nov. 24 and Australia on Dec. 1.

Autumn Tests

Howley will coach Wales for its first two autumn Tests against Samoa and Argentina in November, as well as the 2013 Six Nations championship.

Gatland has less than nine months to settle on a squad and develop a playing style before the Lions kick off their tour June 1 against the Barbarians in Hong Kong. The stopover is their first visit to the city.

The first of nine matches in Australia is scheduled four days later against the Western Force Super Rugby team in Perth. The best-of-three Test series against the Wallabies starts June 22 in Brisbane with matches to follow in Melbourne a week later and Sydney on July 6.

“You can expect us to play an open, exciting brand of rugby, teamed with hopefully winning rugby,” Gatland said. “But if we have to play ugly to win the Test series, I’m prepared to do that.”

Australia’s only series triumph against the Lions came 11 years ago when the Rod Macqueen-coached Wallabies fought back after losing the opener to clinch a 2-1 victory with a 29-23 win in Sydney.

The Lions lost all three Tests to the All Blacks four years later in New Zealand. They went 2-0 down to South Africa in 2009 before snapping their seven-Test losing streak with a victory in the final match.

Former Australia captain John Eales, who led the Wallabies in the 2001 series, has said that facing the Lions is the next-best thing to playing at the World Cup in a rugby career.

Gatland, who played for his club team Waikato against the Lions on their 1993 tour of New Zealand, agreed.

“For a player it is the pinnacle of their career,” he said. “It’s the same for the coaches involved. This is the highest honor, to be selected as the Lions coach.”

BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS 2013 TOUR SCHEDULE:
June 1    vs   Barbarians                       Hong Kong
June 5    vs   Western Force                    Perth
June 8    vs   Queensland Reds                  Brisbane
June 11   vs   Combined NSW-Queensland Country  Newcastle
June 15   vs   New South Wales Waratahs         Sydney
June 18   vs   ACT Brumbies                     Canberra
June 22   vs   AUSTRALIA                        Brisbane
June 25   vs   Melbourne Rebels                 Melbourne
June 29   vs   AUSTRALIA                        Melbourne
July 6    vs   AUSTRALIA                        Sydney

To contact the reporters on this story: Bob Bensch in London at bbensch@bloomberg.net; Dan Baynes in Sydney at dbaynes@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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