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Wales, Lions coach Gatland to coach Super Rugby's Chiefs

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Wales and British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has been confirmed as the new coach of the Hamilton-based Chiefs in Super Rugby.

The Chiefs announced Friday that Gatland has been appointed on a four-year contract beginning in 2020 but will be allowed a year off in 2021 to coach the Lions on their tour to South Africa.

The 55-year-old Gatland takes over from Colin Cooper, who stepped down as head coach on Thursday after two years in charge. Cooper led the team to the Super Rugby playoffs in both of those years.

Speculation had been rife that Gatland, a former Chiefs technical adviser, would replace Cooper whose exit appeared to have been hastened to allow Gatland's appointment.

Cooper said he was standing down for "family reasons" but his departure followed Gatland's announcement in Britain that he hoped to return to New Zealand to take up a Super Rugby coaching role.

Gatland has coached Wales for 12 years since 2007 and has been Lions hed coach in 2013 and 2017 when it drew a three-test series in New Zealand. He will step down as Wales head coach after the Rugby World Cup later this year in Japan.

"I am really excited about the opportunity to come back home. The opportunity to come back as head coach of the Chiefs is something that I am really looking forward to," Gatland said in a statement.

"The Chiefs are well known for the success they've had both on and off the field and the really loyal support they have from everyone within the Chiefs region."

Chiefs CEO Michael Collins, who is believed to have flown to Britain to negotiate terms with Gatland, said the former All Black is "a world-class coach who boasts a proven track record.

"With a sound rugby background and his desire to return home to New Zealand and be involved in Super Rugby naturally made him a top choice for the role."

But Gatland's return may not be widely applauded by New Zealand fans. During his time in Wales — which followed two seasons as a technical adviser to the Chiefs — he earned a reputation for producing a one-dimensional style of rugby known as "Warrenball."

The style relies on forwards to crash the ball upfield and limits the attacking involvement of backs. The Chiefs have a large group of talented young backs and that style is out of step with New Zealand's traditional game.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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