Why after three Lions tours, two unbeaten as the head coach, did Warren Gatland come back for more this year?
‘It felt like there was unfinished business,’ comes the immediate answer from the modern-day Lion King — an assistant on the 2009 South Africa tour before becoming the main man in Australia 2013 and New Zealand four years ago.
After that last trip — which the tourists drew 1-1 with the All Blacks — Gatland said he had hated the whole thing.
Warren Gatland is entering yet another Lions tour but still has the hunger to coach the teamInsurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
The media scrutiny on his family, the pressure, and what he felt were personal attacks from his countrymen all grated.
But far from that being the full stop on his distinguished career leading the Lions, Gatland has added an ellipsis, for here he is today back up in the box on foreign soil coaching the famous team in red, reputation back on the line, attempting a near- impossible sporting challenge once more.
‘It is incredibly exciting,’ he continues — a twinkle back in the former hooker’s eye.
‘The focus in 2009 was about whether in the professional era was the Lions going to continue as an entity. The first thing was getting respect back in the jersey.
‘Winning in 2013 and with a series tied in 2017 when they approached me it was hard to say no. You realise there’s a massive amount of pressure and I felt that on occasions when people have not agreed with decisions or when the New Zealand media had a crack at me last time and tried to unsettle me. That was another challenge. The same may happen again.
‘You go away from it, you reflect and then it is pretty hard to reject an offer to come back and coach the Lions and the opportunity you have to make some special memories.’
Gatland is excited for the South Africa tour as he looks to prolong his unbeaten run
The 2009 tour, the last to South Africa, opened Gatland’s eyes.
The then head coach, Sir Ian McGeechan, was so impressed with his Kiwi forwards coach that he asked Gatland to present Test jerseys to the selected few before one of the Springbok games.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
But Gatland said no.
‘I politely declined his invitation even though it was a massive honour,’ he explains now.
‘I felt that I had not earned my stripes.’
Whatever happens this summer in South Africa, Gatland certainly has now.
More than anyone from the southern hemisphere he has ‘got’ the Lions — and is now one of its fiercest defenders in the face of its constant battles for relevance, calendar space and respect.
His time as Ian McGeechan's assistant in 2009, the last tour to South Africa, opened his eyes
‘The Lions is incredibly special as an entity and I am passionate about protecting it and making sure it continues,’ he says, finally now on tour in South Africa