British and Irish Lions: Who will make the coaching staff to tour South Africa

By Chris JonesBBC rugby union correspondent
Warren Gatland and his coaching staff
Gatland (second from left) was assisted by Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Rob Howley in 2017

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland currently has his hands pretty full in his native New Zealand - with his Chiefs side enduring a turbulent Super Rugby Aotearoa - but in the background planning continues apace for the Lions tour of South Africa, which has been confirmed for next July and August.

Gatland officially becomes Lions property later this month and the selection of a coaching team to take on the world champions is a major priority, with appointments expected by November.

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster's name has been thrown into the mix this week, and the former England boss is among a number of big-name operators under consideration.

Here we analyse a few of the men who Gatland might target to take down the Springboks, starting with those who were by his side in 2017.

Andy Farrell

Andy Farrell
Farrell has been promoted to the head coach role with Ireland in the wake of Joe Schmidt's departure at the end of the 2019 Rugby World Cup

A surprising selection over Gatland's former right-hand man Shaun Edwards for the tour of Australia in 2013, Farrell has established himself as a Lions coaching hero in the meantime, and has yet to lose a series. Farrell's suffocating line-speed defence helped shut down some vaunted attacking sides in New Zealand in 2017, with the all-conquering Crusaders kept try-less and the All Blacks themselves limited to just 15 points in the Auckland Test series decider.

Senior Lions figures have talked privately about Farrell one day being a Lions head coach, and it is not difficult to see him heading up the whole outfit come 2025. But his availability for 2021 is complicated by him now being the Ireland boss - and while Gatland will surely scope out his availability, Farrell may look to focus on the day job.

Steve Borthwick

Steve Borthwick
Borthwick's use of a ladder to better analyse line-out drills has become a familiar sight on international touchlines

Borthwick joined Farrell and Gatland in New Zealand in 2017 - his first Lions coaching assignment - and by all accounts he was an absolute revelation. The former England captain is a retiring figure in public, but his reputation as one of the leading coaches in the northern hemisphere is burgeoning, with Ireland great Rory Best talking glowingly about him in the Ulsterman's excellent recent autobiography.

If Borthwick can turn Leicester around, and achieve at club level, then he will be ready to replace England boss Eddie Jones in 2023. However would Borthwick be prepared to spend a number of months away from the Tigers next summer, given the urgency of the rebuilding process needed at Welford Road? Borthwick said recently he has had no discussions with the Leicester hierarchy about being released for the tour and it is hard to see him stepping away from the club come the summer of 2021.

Rob Howley

Rob Howley
Howley is a familiar face at Gatland's right hand

Howley was another one of Gatland's senior assistants in 2017, and has extensive experience of the Lions as a brilliant player in 1997 and 2001, and a coach in 2009 and 2013. But his career was derailed last year after he was sent home from the Rugby World Cup for betting offences, and he has yet to return to full-time work.

Howley spoke movingly and candidly recently about his experiences in a Mail on Sunday interview,external-link and there is no doubt he will still retain the affection of Gatland, a long-time friend and colleague. But again, it is hard to see him involved in South Africa.

Gregor Townsend

Gregor Townsend
Townsend's 2020 season has been complicated by a breakdown in relations with star fly-half Finn Russell, a late call-up to the 2017 Lions tour

So with all of Farrell, Borthwick and Howley possibly ruled out, Gatland will need to bring in some fresh faces.

Townsend was part of the famous Lions side that so memorably defeated the Springboks in 1997, and has established himself as one of the leading coaches in the northern hemisphere since retirement, winning the Pro 14 with Glasgow and taking charge of Scotland for the past three years.

Although he has yet to turn the Scots into a global force, Townsend remains a highly-rated figure - and was approached by Gatland to join the team in 2017. However it's understood this was in a reduced role as back-up to Howley, and given his Scotland commitments, Townsend turned the invitation down.

Relations between the Lions and the Scottish Rugby Union have not always been harmonious in recent years, and it will be interesting to see how Townsend and the SRU would react if the approach came again. Either way, Scotland's players have perhaps been hamstrung by the lack of a Scottish presence on the Lions coaching panel when it comes to close selection calls, something that wouldn't be lost on Gatland - or Scottish rugby as a whole.

Stuart Lancaster

Stuart Lancaster
Lancaster oversaw England's pool-stage exit from their home Rugby World Cup in 2015

After the devastating end to his England tenure, Lancaster has rebuilt and enhanced his reputation at Leinster, winning a string of Pro 14 titles and a Champions Cup in 2018. Gatland talked Lancaster up on Sky Sportsexternal-link recently, and while there has been no official approach or detailed discussions, the Englishman is firmly in Gatland's sights and the pair have spoken.

Lancaster's availability would be less of an issue than say Townsend or Farrell, and he would no doubt be up for the challenge. He works closely with some of the Leinster and Ireland players who will be a key part of the tour - for example Tadgh Furlong, James Ryan and Garry Ringrose - and capped a number of English players who are now in their prime.

Matt Proudfoot

Matt Proudfoot
Proudfoot's grandfather is from Ayrshire and he won four caps for Scotland as a player

Recruited by Eddie Jones following the 2019 Rugby World Cup, where Proudfoot masterminded the Springbok scrum's demolition of England in the final, the South African-born former Scottish international has had a big impact on Jones' staff in the first few months of 2020.

With his knowledge of the Boks, Proudfoot would be a coup for the Lions, and it's thought the Rugby Football Union would be open to releasing him as they did with Borthwick in 2017. However Proudfoot getting the nod may leave no room on the ticket for Lions stalwart Graham Rowntree, who was involved in 2005, 2009, 2013, and 2017, and will again be firmly in the picture, especially if Gatland wants some continuity from previous tours.

John Mitchell

John Mitchell
Mitchell's globe-trotting coaching career has included jobs in Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and the United States, as well as his current stint with Eddie Jones' England

Brought into the England set-up from left-field in 2018, Mitchell's presence as the defence guru on Jones' coaching staff has coincided with a rich run of form, with the team only losing four competitive games on his watch.

The former All Blacks boss is an old mate of Gatland's, and the pair lived together in Hamilton when team-mates at Waikato. Mitchell also has a deep knowledge of South African rugby from his time at the Bulls, and has to be a leading contender to be involved with the Lions in 2021.

If Gatland looks to Proudfoot, and the RFU are reluctant to release two of England's senior coaches, then the former Ospreys coach Steve Tandy has impressed as Scotland's defensive leader and should also be in the frame.

Shaun Edwards

Shaun Edwards
Edwards signed a four-year deal to take charge of France's defence after the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Speaking of defence, few come close to Edwards in terms of stature and experience. Fresh off a successful 12-year spell with Wales, the former rugby league great made an immediate impact with France in a short space of time earlier this year.

A Lions assistant alongside Gatland in 2009, Edwards was overlooked for the tours in 2013 and 2017, and while he would dearly love another shot at the world champions, securing release from the French Federation would be tricky at best and impossible at worst.