Wales place rob howley in charge during warren gatland's lions absence

Rugby Union Lions gig for Gatland

Wales coach Warren Gatland will coach the British & Irish Lions on their 10-match tour of New Zealand in 2017.

The Kiwi will begin his sabbatical from his job as Wales boss immediately by travelling to New Zealand on Thursday, accompanied by tour manager John Spencer to begin planning.

The Lions have won only one of their 11 series against the All Blacks, in 1971, and were hammered on the last visit in 2005 when England's World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward was at the helm.

"Coaching the Lions is a great privilege".

His assistants won't be announced until December, with Gatland announcing that he is "fully commited" on the Lions, with Rob Howley expected to take temporary charge of the Wales team in a repeat of 2013.

"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".

The Lions face 10 games on what will be an extremely challenging trip, which includes three Tests against the All Blacks - unbeaten on home soil since 2009.

"If you look at the All Blacks, when the games are tight they still play the numbers and are a little bit conservative and that's potentially when they're at their most vulnerable". "We have to go there as a team and believe we can be successful".

"It's a really tough tour", he said.

Gatland, who was born in Hamilton, is charged with masterminding a series victory against the world's best side, the All Blacks.

"When I was offered the position it was definitely a "yes" straight away".

Gatland's appointment has been explicitly flagged for some months, with a photo of him in Lions gear taken yesterday circulating widely and somewhat humorously on social media to ensure that nobody was going to be shocked.

Gatland was an assistant coach in 2009, when they were beaten 2-1 in South Africa, before becoming head coach four years ago. I am excited to have the challenge once again, and I would like to thank the WRU for this opportunity. "There's experience in the forward pack and there's some size as well; there's some real skill and I am incredibly excited about the potential of a Lions team to go to New Zealand".

"I think the important thing is you want some continuity, but also important to get some fresh faces and fresh ideas".