Former Ireland hooker Rory Best wants to see a change at the British and Irish Lions helm after three tours under Warren Gatland, suggesting bias was a concern in the series defeat to South Africa
Gatland has failed to rule out the possibility of returning for a fourth straight tour as head coach when the team travels to Australia in 2025, but Best has said change is needed at the helm.
The 124-cap former Ireland hooker toured twice with the Lions in 2013 and 2017 but failed to earn a Test appearance on either trip.
In a bid to strike the best balance, Best believes fairer representation is needed not only among the squad, but also on the Lions coaching staff.
“I would like to see a British or Irish head coach. I’d like to see coaches from each of the four nations included in that,” he said during a recent appearance on RTE’s Game On .
“I think it gives you an even spread. There can be no arguments over selection.
“The problem with this tour, if you were a bit cynical about it, there were a lot of Welsh and a lot of Scottish played at times. I don’t think it should be the case of what voice is loudest in the room.
“It should be an equal balance of that and then pick the best players.”
Those comments are a nod to the imbalance concerning Gatland—who reigned as Wales coach for 11 years—and the rest of his coaching set-up.
Defence coach Tandy, forwards coach Robin McBryde and kicking coach Neil Jenkins are all Welsh, while the head of attack, Gregor Townsend, is Scottish and has led their national team since 2017.
Ireland and Scotland were each equally represented with eight players apiece when the Lions squad was first announced in May.
Ireland chief Andy Farrell has been involved in two previous tours as defence coach, but his current commitments meant he was omitted from Gatland’s selection this time around.
That being said, Best hinted the time has come to move on from New Zealand native Gatland. He went on to tout British or Irish contenders to lead in 2025, with Farrell, Townsend, Exeter Chiefs coach Rob Baxter and Saracens director Mark McCall each in contention.
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“These are guys who understand the traditions of the Lions from watching it as kids, right up through – Gregor has played on tours,” Best added.
“For me it would be someone like that who understands the importance of everything involved with the Lions.
“Yes, the Test series is ultimately what you’re judged on but it’s not the only thing that you should be internally judged on.
“There are a lot of strong candidates out there but I would love to see how the next couple of years go for somebody like Andy Farrell. Give some of them a bit of time and see what they do.
“I do think I would prefer it to be somebody from Britain or Ireland.”
Only two Scottish players started the third Test in Cape Town, while Finn Russell came off the bench to be one of the Lions’ best players in their 19-16 loss to the Springboks.
Only Wales (five) had more players starting than Ireland (four) in that decisive defeat, although England had seven players involved on the day including substitutes.
Chiefs coach Gatland is regarded as one of rugby’s greatest coaches despite suffering a maiden Lions series defeat in South Africa, and many will think he’s still the best man for the job.
In theory, a non-British or Irish coach should make for the most impartial selection, though Best’s comments suggest he believes previous positions may have tilted his allegiances this summer.