Warren Gatland has become a contender to take charge of the All Blacks, according to Graham Henry.
The past Wales and Lions coach has anointed the current occupant of both roles following the tourists’ series-saving victory over New Zealand in the second Test.
Gatland’s contract with Wales ends after the 2019 World Cup, but he has previously been seen an outsider to succeed Steve Hansen who is also stepping down as All Blacks coach after the same tournament.
Hansen’s assistant Ian Foster is regarded as the favourite to take over, but Henry believes Gatland’s shot at an historic series victory over the world champions has pushed him far higher into contention.
“He’s one of the most experienced coaches in the world, he’s had a long run with Wales and won a couple of Six Nations,” said Henry.
“He’s been with the Lions for some time and done exceptionally well. The All Blacks are currently the world champions and ranked number one in the world.
“So to beat the All Blacks at home with a side which has had very little rugby together would be an astronomical achievement. Warren’s done a great job in getting them all together and he’s possibly a future All Blacks coach.”
Henry initially described the Lions tour schedule as a suicide mission, a view accepted by many pundits. So while he took a powerful side to New Zealand, Gatland has already beaten the odds in one sense by levelling the series.
Foster is seen as the establishment candidate as he has remained loyal to New Zealand rugby and not taken higher paid overseas jobs, but both Gatland and Ireland’s Joe Schmidt cannot be discounted.
Gatland coached the Lions to a 2-1 series victory over Australia four years ago, and was the forwards coach for the 2009 tour to South Africa, assisting Ian McGeechan.
The Lions lost that series 2-1, although they lost the second Test at the death and then crushed the home side in the final game.
Alun Wyn Jones believes the intensity will ‘go up again’ when the Lions target Test series glory this Saturday.
Jones captained the Lions when they faced a series decider in Australia four years ago, overseeing a spectacular performance as the Wallabies were routed 41-16.
The All Blacks, though, will protect a 23-year unbeaten record at Auckland’s Eden Park and are on the rebound from a 24-21 second Test defeat – their first loss in New Zealand since 2009.
The Lions have now decamped to the tourist haven of Queenstown in New Zealand’s Southern Alps for a few days’ rest and recuperation, but talk is already turning towards another huge confrontation.
‘At this stage of the tour, you have to enjoy the moment, but it’s a level series, which is all it is at the minute,’ Wales and Lions lock Jones said.
‘We responded to our performance from last week, and no doubt they will do the same next week. So we need to build and be ready for what they’ve got next week.
‘We know the intensity with what’s at stake will go up again like it did four years ago, and very little will change, you imagine.
‘When you quantify intensity… is it being accurate? Is it keeping them down? Is it not putting the ball out dead? I think if we can do all these things and maintain that intensity for a longer period, it should go some way towards improving our performance for next week.’
Jones, 31, was part of a Lions pack that had its physicality questioned following a tame showing in the opening Test, but an outstanding response underpinned a first Lions victory over New Zealand for 24 years.
‘If you look at the games we’ve played previously, probably the Crusaders game in particular (12-3 win on June 10), we showed elements of what we can do as a pack,’ Wales skipper Jones added.
‘We had to answer questions again, and on the back of those comments (criticism of pack) last week, I felt we did that.
Individual people make packs, and when you do your individual role in that, you get a complete pack. For the large part there was a lot of that, particularly in the first half.
‘We were stressed going down to 14 men with the yellow card (for Mako Vunipola), and they were in the ascendancy in the first 15 or 20 minutes in the second half, but we were able to weather the storm.
‘As a pack, we were trying to stick to what we do.
‘I think those penalties (conceded by the Lions) were us trying too hard because we knew we were in the ascendancy in the first half. It’s a case of not taking our foot off the gas, but knowing when to put our front foot forward, if you like, when we are trying to win back the ball.
‘We will look at those penalties and certain areas where we feel we probably can get a bit wider.
‘On the whole, the performance wasn’t complete, but we will patch those areas up where we need to, and obviously they are going to be an All Blacks team chomping at the bit next week.
‘We’ve really got to make sure we enjoy it. We will get the best out of everyone if we do enjoy it.’
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