Warren Gatland has been named head coach of the British and Irish Lions for the 2021 tour of South Africa, and will become only the second person to take charge of three successive tours, along with Sir Ian McGeechan.

Gatland will step down as Wales coach after the upcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan, having taken them to three Six Nations Grand Slams. He took the Lions to victory in Australia in 2013 and a creditable draw with his home nation of New Zealand in 2017. 

“I’m hugely honoured and delighted to lead the Lions again,” said Gatland. “It is exciting and a great challenge to coach the best players from the four Home Nations.

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“The Lions rightly have a truly special place in the game and I jumped at the chance to be involved again when I was approached about the role. South Africa is a special place to play rugby.

“They have some of the most iconic stadiums in the world which will be packed full of passionate fans, and the Springboks have shown in recent times that they are back to being one of the dominant forces in the game.

“Having toured there in 2009 I know the scale of the task ahead of us – playing in South Africa presents a number of unique challenges such as playing at altitude, while the Boks will always be physical, aggressive and highly motivated.

“History tells you it’s a tough place to tour, but I am 100 per cent confident that we can go there and win. I would not be here if I thought differently.

“I’m delighted to now have everything in place to begin full-time in August 2020 as that gives me the best possible chance to plan for South Africa, but for the time being my focus is entirely on the Rugby World Cup and delivering a successful campaign for Wales.”

Warren Gatland will continue as Lions coach (Getty)

Gatland has committed himself fully to the Lions until after the 2021 tour. The in-demand boss’ long-term future remains up for debate, but he will first bid to leave Wales on a high at the World Cup.

Gatland has coached Wales since 2008, and now has the chance to become the first Lions head coach to remain unbeaten on tours to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

“We’re delighted to have got our man. Warren is a world-class coach, boasts a proven track record and knows the Lions better than anyone else currently coaching in world rugby, so naturally he was our first-choice candidate from the start of the process,” said Lions managing director Ben Calveley.

“This was a unanimous decision from the Lions board and it was important that we moved swiftly and proactively to secure Warren’s signature.

“Appointing him two years ahead of time ensures Warren can also be involved in planning the logistics and scheduling elements of the tour. I’m looking forward to working alongside him to give the Lions the best chance of success in South Africa.

“The supporters are central to what make the Lions special, and with the world’s finest coach at the helm, excitement will grow even further.”

Additional reporting by PA

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