Gatland confirmed to coach 2017 Lions in his NZ homeland
Warren Gatland warned any potential British and Irish Lions players and staff who doubted they can beat the All Blacks next year to put their hands up now.
"Don't get on the plane," Gatland said at his unveiling as coach on Wednesday. "You've got to go there with the belief that we can put a squad together - a team, coaching team, management team - that are capable of going down and being successful in New Zealand.
"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think we've got the ability to go to New Zealand and win."
Fighting words from the former All Black hooker.
He was the unanimous choice of the Lions' board, especially after he coached them on their last tour in 2013 to Australia, where they beat the Wallabies 2-1 for their first series win in 16 years.
But beating the All Blacks in a series would mark an even greater achievement.
The Lions have done it only once in 11 previous visits, in 1971. In four tours since then, over 14 tests, they won only two.
Adding to the depth of the Lions' challenge, the All Blacks are the two-time defending world champions who haven't lost at home since 2009.
Gatland's own record against them was abysmal, too. As the Wales coach since 2008, he's lost all 10 tests against New Zealand, including being swept 3-0 in June. There was also an embarrassing 40-7 loss to a second-string Chiefs Super Rugby side. On the bright side for the Welsh Lions, the recent tour was a useful fact-finding mission which offered perspective for the Lions expedition.
Gatland will fly to New Zealand again on Thursday to check hotels and training venues, and watch the All Blacks play Argentina and South Africa over the next two weekends in the Rugby Championship. He plans to reveal his support staff on Dec. 7. Rob Howley will take over Wales in Gatland's absence, as he did successfully in 2012-13.
The Lions face 10 matches next June, including three tests against the All Blacks, all five Super Rugby sides, plus the Maori All Blacks.
The team has already faced criticism that it will be handicapped, because it flies out next May only two days after the English and Pro12 club finals. The Lions arrive in New Zealand two days later, and the first match is just three days after that, on June 3, against a Provincial XV.
Then they face the Blues, Crusaders, and Highlanders, all of whom have received notice that their All Blacks will be released to them.
"In sport, everyone wants to play, be involved, at the highest level, and to me that's the most exciting thing about being involved in this, because you challenge yourself against the best, and there's no bigger challenge," Gatland said.
He knows first-hand just how tough New Zealand will be for the Lions. He scored a try against the Lions in 1993, in a 38-10 victory for his Waikato province. Those Lions lost twice to New Zealand, and to four provinces.
He said he had no hesitation in accepting the offer to coach the Lions again. He was an assistant to Ian McGeechan on the 2009 tour to South Africa, and took charge in 2013, when his huge call to drop Brian O'Driscoll for the decisive third test paid off as the Lions triumphed 41-16.
Gatland was only the third man to retain the Lions coaching job in the last 100 years, after McGeechan (1989, '93, '97) and James Baxter (1927, '30).
McGeechan backed him.
"He is undoubtedly the right man for the job," McGeechan wrote in a column for the Sunday Telegraph. "He is a New Zealander who understands New Zealand rugby, especially what it means to play against the Lions, but he has also been a part of British rugby for a long time now.
"He truly understands what the Lions means and has enormous respect for the concept. Gatland really has that understanding of the Lions jersey, and it is so important that you can then transfer that to the players. If he gets that in their hearts, their heads and their souls then the Lions have a great chance of doing well."