Warren Gatland says he is excited about returning to New Zealand to take charge of the Chiefs – a move that will put him on track to coach the All Blacks.
The Wales coach has signed a four-year contract with the Waikato Super Rugby side, replacing Colin Cooper who quit on Thursday with a year left on his contract.
The Chiefs have confirmed that 55-year-old Gatland will join the Hamilton-based team after he finishes with Wales at the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Gatland, a Waikato provincial stalwart in the 1980s, will have a break to take control of the British and Irish Lions for their tour of South Africa in 2021 before he returns to the Chiefs role for the 2022 season.
“I am really excited about the opportunity to come back home,” said Gatland, who will put himself in position to be eligible to coach the All Blacks – a lifetime ambition.
“The opportunity to come back as head coach of the Chiefs is something that I am really looking forward to.”
Gatland has never given up on his dream of coaching his national team – an ambition he admitted he still held on the day he became Wales coach in 2007 and still cherishes 12 years later.
One barrier to that seemed to be the presence of New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew – who viewed Gatland’s long-term absence from New Zealand rugby in much the same way he viewed players who chase cash overseas, that it should preclude them from representing their country.
But Tew is now standing down at the end of the year, which means success for Gatland at the Chiefs will make him a prime candidate to coach the All Blacks after the 2023 World Cup – at which point he will still only be 59-years-old.
The former All Blacks hooker had signalled earlier this year he was keen on returning to New Zealand and moving into a Super Rugby coaching role.
He will be released from his Chiefs contract in August 2020, after next year’s Super Rugby season, to focus on the Lions.
“Warren is a world-class coach who boasts a proven track record,” Chiefs chief executive Michael Collins said.
“With a sound rugby background and his desire to return home to New Zealand and be involved in Super Rugby naturally made him a top choice for the role.
“Like Warren we are excited for his return to the Chiefs rugby environment.”
A mobile hooker in his playing days, Gatland has developed into one of the world’s premier coaches since he cut his teeth with Irish side Connacht before leading Ireland from 1998-2001.
He moved to English club Wasps from 2002-2005 before returning to New Zealand where he coached the Waikato provincial team and was a technical advisor for the Chiefs.
Gatland returned to Britain to take on the head coaching role with Wales in 2007 and has led them to four Six Nations titles, three of them Grand Slams.
He also led the Lions to a test series victory over Australia in 2013 and a drawn series with New Zealand in 2017.
His announcement to leave the Wales job after the World Cup in Japan sparked a flurry of media speculation as to his interest in the All Blacks job, with Steve Hansen stepping down after the global showpiece.
But the Chiefs role, coupled with his Lions duties, would appear to have put that target four years further down the road.
The twice-champion Chiefs bowed out of the Super Rugby quarter-finals with defeat to Argentina’s Jaguares last week after qualifying for their eighth successive play-offs campaign.